The street corner at the heart of Kew Gardens Hills is now an open-air gallery covering a wall from ground to the roof. “I went to the Wynwood Walls in Florida, an open-air mural display, and I said to my wife that I wanted to do this on my walls,” said Michael Feldstein, who owns the dental office on the northeast corner of Main Street and Jewel Avenue.
Feldstein’s ties to his street corner go back 62 years, when his father Stanley opened his dental practice here, which his son now runs. “I’ve been here for 37 years. This neighborhood is stable, and it is also diverse. It is culturally rich,” he said.
Inspired by his visit to Miami, Feldstein searched online for a New York-based muralist whose work could beautify his wall with non-controversial material. “I looked on Instagram for art that was not raging, not political, and local. I found Majo and I liked her flowers and birds. And she saw the passion that I had,” he said.
Under the label @majo_san, Mexican-born muralist Majo Barajas has numerous examples of tropical flora and fauna on dark backgrounds. “I’m from Mexico City, and I lived for a time in Playa Del Carmen and Cancún, the Mexican Caribbean, where I was inspired by tropical plants,” Barajas said. She arrived in New York three years ago, with her first local mural appearing at PS 9 in Prospect Heights. Since then, the muralist and graphic designer has painted walls on the Lower East Side and in East Village, two neighborhoods with a long history as havens for creative expression. She resides in Chinatown.
“I love the neighborhood and I love art. I wanted to give back to the community. People can walk by and say ‘wow,’” he said. A close friend of Feldstein who owns an asbestos removal company donated scaffolding as an appreciation of the mural project. Barajas is painting the mural with assistance from her friend Alexa Davis, an East Village resident. The mural is expected to be finished within a week.
Besides the mural, Feldstein’s dental office is also distinct for having an outdoor waiting room, a paved sitting area surrounded by bushes, under the shade of a tree. The sitting area and the mural were conceived before the coronavirus pandemic, but they certainly correspond to the need for maintaining social distancing, and uplifting scenery at this difficult time. Feldstein remembers when Kew Gardens Hills had a massive mural across the street showing the Jewish people at Sinai, and he was happy to see Chazaq sponsoring a mural last year on the roll-down gate below its office on Jewel Avenue.
Feldstein’s next goal for outdoor art in Queens is on the borough’s eastern edge at North Shore Towers, where his father lives. “Next to the community pool there are three lounge buildings with flat roofs that can be seen from the windows and balconies of the high-rises,” he said. “It needs to go through the co-op board.”
As Kew Gardens Hills is concerned, he hopes that his mural sets a trend. “This could inspire other buildings.”
By Sergey Kadinsky