The enormous, iconic mural that once graced the now-shuttered Alexander’s department store in Paramus has found a new home.
The colorful, modernist work of art by Stefan Knapp, a Polish artist known for his vibrant enamel murals, will return to the town where it once stood for decades. Soon, its panels will be displayed around the new Valley Hospital in Paramus, set to open this spring.
For more than 35 years, the 200-foot mural hung outside the department store, located near the busy cloverleaf intersection of Routes 4 and 17 in Paramus. For those who grew up in the area, it was an indelible landmark from their youth, and its meaning was open to interpretation, with its huge splotches of red, blue and orange.
The artwork was painted on steel, glass and enamel in 1961 by Knapp and was once thought to be the largest public mural in the world. The artist painted in an airplane hangar in London, using skis to cover the surface of the work in progress. He considered the work to be a map of the world, inspired by the aerial views he saw as a pilot while flying Spitfires for the Royal Air Force in London during World War II. He did this after escaping from a Soviet gulag, where he’d been imprisoned.
After Alexander’s closed, the 24-ton mural, which encompassed 10,000 feet of enameled steel, stood on the abandoned building until it was finally dismantled. The massive panels—there were more than 200 of them— were placed in storage in various places, including the Carlstadt DPW building, under the guidance of the Bergen Museum of Arts and Sciences. It was eventually moved to the Art Factory Studios in Paterson, where parts of it was on display. Each panel weights 220 pounds and is 4 feet by 8 feet tall.
Robin Goldfischer, senior vice president and general counsel for the Valley Health System, has been overseeing the mural project for the hospital. She says that the mural cannot be displayed in its entirety because it’s so large; also, about 80 of the panels are missing. The hospital had some of the panels that were warped or duty restored.
When the panels are on display, there will also be a depiction of the full mural with an explanation behind the panels, as a way for the hospital to honor Stefan Knapp’s vision of the mural. Many of the panels are up in the building now, and are still being installed on the grounds. They will be on view for the public starting in April, when the new hospital opens.
Valley Hospital’s new facility in Paramus will provide all of its surgical, acute care and emergency care. The Ridgewood building, where it is now located, will remain open, mainly for outpatient services.
When Valley Hospital announced that it would be moving its main facility to Paramus, the town’s mayor at the time, Richard LaBarbiera, suggested to Audrey Meyers, the president and CEO of the hospital, that the Knapp panels would make a wonderful addition to the new campus.
She quickly agreed.
“For so many of us who grew up in the area, it, it just seemed like if we could bring back these panels in some form to Paramus, wouldn’t that just be wonderful?” says Meyers.
The panels will be mounted within the hospital, as well as in the gardens that surround the building. “I can only imagine patients looking out of their room, and visitors seeing these beautiful panels,” she says.
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