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This was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 11, 1998.

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West Windsor’s Rain

At top left, off in the distance, there are valleys

and purple mountain ranges. Nearer at hand, in a world of greens,

a long, yellow-bellied snake drapes itself over a tree limb, and a

baboon looks out from a profusion of foliage. A filmy-winged insect

with brilliant blue fuselage hovers above, while on a branch to the

right, an iguana assumes an alert pose.

Seemingly on their own plane, a flock of multi-colored birds wing

by, as a leopard (as yet unspotted) reclines lazily below. In the

foreground, an enormous twisted tree trunk bristles with realism,

right down to an intriguing hollow spot. Nearby, an orangutan feasts

on fruit, while parrots and toucans ornament the trees with their

very presence. And everywhere — from top to bottom, left to right

— unending and varied shades of green conceal and convey the

unending

and varied flora of the rain forest.

Down below, real children play in a wooden engine, browse among

bookshelves,

or sit at low tables, listening to stories. No, they’re not on safari.

They are in the children’s area of the one-year-old West Windsor

branch

of the Mercer County Library. Here, above their heads, a

vividly-colored

400-square-foot mural depicting the splendors of a rain forest has

been steadily growing, day by day.

Since August, a Princeton artist, Ilya Spirin, has worked many long

evenings on the expansive mural. The fact that Spirin is only

21-years-old

is reason enough for celebrity; but the fact that the style and scope

of his art is already beginning to rival that of his famous father,

the Russian-born illustrator Gennady Spirin (U.S. 1, May 27), makes

Ilya’s future look particularly bright.

In executing this major mural commission, Spirin simply ignored eight

small windows and a slatted air vent that penetrate his picture area.

He has also ignored — at least for the time being — a large

white pipe that emanates out of, and divides, the curved wall. Earlier

in the project, he spoke of incorporating it into the work, although

the closer the mural moves to completion, the more daunting that pipe

looks as a possible element of a rain forest.

The public will discover how Spirin solves this final artistic

challenge

when the mural is "unveiled," possibly with a reincarnated

pipe adding a third dimension, at a public reception, Friday, November

13, at 7:30 p.m.

On our visit in late October, Spirin, the oldest of the renowned

children’s

book illustrator’s three sons, still had plenty to do. Using acrylics

for quick drying, he has painted the huge work without the aid of

a grid, essentially creating the picture as he went along, with

elements

from his earlier, approved sketch. Then, with much of the mural

roughed

out, he went back for fine-tuning — those leopard markings, for

instance, would soon be added. Only then could the 15-foot-high,

three-level

scaffold that has provided his portable studio come down.

Irene Hoyt, co-president of the Friends of the Library,

took on this community-building project when she became involved with

the Friends group, and, with engaging energy and style, she has run

with it since then. A bubbling Spirin-booster, Hoyt has handled

publicity

and arranged his interviews, besides exclaiming over the

work-in-progress.

She hopes he’ll bring more of his paintings — primarily in

watercolor

or oils — to offer for sale at the reception. (While she’s at

it, she might also hope the shy artist himself makes his scheduled

appearance. He failed to appear for our scheduled appointment, which

is how we got to know Hoyt instead.)

As so many things do, it all started with a dragon. West Windsor

children’s

librarian Faith Yim first saw the young Spirin’s watercolor of the

mythical beast at the Firebird Gallery, on Witherspoon Street, where

Gennady Spirin’s work is exhibited. That led to an inquiry and young

Spirin’s agreement to do the mural, which he works on at night because

he is at work, by day, on illustrations for a children’s book. An

attorney who is "right now a volunteer mother" with the

Friends

group and other enterprises, Hoyt drew up a contract defining the

job and protecting both library and artist. Soon after that, the rain

forest theme was agreed upon and Spirin’s preliminary sketch was

approved.

By late summer, the mural began to take form.

Hoyt marvels at Spirin’s sense of responsibility toward this project.

While others his age are still in the sheltered collegiate world,

or learning about employment through trial and error, he has lived

up to the terms of the contract for this job, and more.

Born in Russia, near Moscow, Ilya Sprin received artistic training

both from his father (who had been singled out at an early age by

the Soviet authorities for art training), and also as a student at

the Moscow Academy of Arts. In 1991, however, the Spirin family

emigrated

to America, and Princeton, necessitating 14-year-old Ilya’s adaptation

to a new culture. He attended Princeton High School.

The rain forest mural overlooks the children’s section of the library

and is readily visible from the circulation desk. It was made possible

through a gift to the Friends of the West Windsor Library from David

and Wendy Greenley, of Kingswood, Texas, in memory of Mrs. Greenley’s

father, Dr. R. Tracy Eddinger. His widow, Joan Eddinger, is an active

Friends member. An avid environmentalist, Wendy Greenley asked that

the funds be used to add interest and beauty to the children’s section

of the library. The rain forest theme evolved from those guidelines.

Praising Spirin’s insistence on visual accuracy, Hoyt anticipates

a wide range of children’s learning projects involving the mural —

starting with the array of related picture books. The brilliant

display

will clearly evoke everything from imaginative reverie to lessons

on rain forest ecology. By the way, do you know why a parrot can crack

a Brazil nut with ease?

— Pat Summers

Rain Forest Mural, Friends of West Windsor Library,

333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction, 609-799-0462. Celebratory

unveiling of Ilya Spirin’s mural. Ribbon cutting, storytelling by

Pamela Hoffman, music, and refreshments. Free. Friday, November

13, 7:30 p.m.


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