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This was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 11, 1998.
All rights reserved.
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
and varied flora of the rain forest.
Down below, real children play in a wooden engine, browse among
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
of the Mercer County Library. Here, above their heads, a
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
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
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
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
from his earlier, approved sketch. Then, with much of the mural
out, he went back for fine-tuning — those leopard markings, for
instance, would soon be added. Only then could the 15-foot-high,
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
and arranged his interviews, besides exclaiming over the
She hopes he’ll bring more of his paintings — primarily in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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