Montessori School Library Gets Graffiti Art Makeover

By Leslie Albrecht on August 9, 2011 3:09pm 

Two graffiti artists recently turned their talents to depicting characters from children's books in a mural for West Side Montessori School.
Two graffiti artists recently turned their talents to depicting characters from children's books in a mural for West Side Montessori School.
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UR New York

UPPER WEST SIDE — Two graffiti artists whose edgy work has been featured alongside photos of Heidi Montag in Playboy magazine recently turned their talents to depicting Eloise, Madeline and other icons of children's literature.

Graffiti artists Fernando Romero and Mike Baca, who onced dodged police to create outlaw graffiti art on city streets, just completed a playful mural on the ceiling of West Side Montessori School's new library.

The mural's kid-friendly theme required a bit of a psychological shift for Romero and Baca, whose paintings usually draw on gritty images of city life like police cars and barbed wire. The duo toned down their art's hardscrabble vibe and focused on showcasing some of the best known characters of classic children's books in a whimsical setting.

Romero, 32, and Baca, 27, who do business as a team called UR New York, painted Harold of "Harold and the Purple Crayon," Corduroy the bear, Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, Waldo of "Where's Waldo," and Max from "Where the Wild Things Are."

They said they took the school job because they wanted to show their versatility as artists.

"We’re not just graffiti artists," Baca said. "We can be illegal, go out and do street art, but this is another element that shows we can take on any project. It's us being able to adapt."

They also like to work with kids. They've conducted painting workshops at the Children's Museum of the Arts in SoHo and give inspirational talks at schools. West Side Montessori, on West 92nd Street, serves 215 students, ages 3 to 6.

But Baca and Romera didn't entirely abandon their street roots for the West Side Montessori mural. They placed the literary characters in a cityscape of tall buildings and added graffiti-inspired flourishes ike spraypaint squiggles to the scene.

The library, which is still under construction, will be carpeted, so kids can lay on the floor and look up at their favorite literary characters.

West Side Montessori's head of school, Mimi Basso, said she hired UR New York at the suggestion of the architect designing the school's new library, which will also serve as a informal meeting room where parents can chat.

"I liked the energy they had," Basso said of the artists. "They remembered books they had read as children and instantly identified the way children would come into the space and recognize characters they knew on the wall. We're serious about learning, but we want there to be a joy to that learning."

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