WEST VILLAGE — R2-D2 is taking up a new post as bodyguard to a Village art studio.
The Star Wars droid is inspiring a sculpture that will stand in the corner of Philip Mortillaro's studio on Seventh Avenue South, at Commerce Street,
The new sentry was employed after the building was badly damaged when a van plowed into it Wednesday.
Longtime Village resident Mortillaro, who is known for building sculptures made of keys and who runs neighboring store Greenwich Locksmiths, will build the four-foot-tall figure for his 62 Seventh Ave. South studio, which he plans to reopen in the next two months, he said.
"This very strong, short, R2-D2-type sculpture is going to be my protector — my bodyguard," he said. "I will never have another vehicle drive into my shop again."
The droid will act as a buffer, hopefully stopping any vehicle that crashes into the building in the future.
Mortillaro, 62, said his forthcoming Star Wars sentry is his D.I.Y. protection from cars he frequently sees speed down Seventh Avenue South before making the right turn onto Commerce Street too fast.
The Department of Transportation says, however, that the corner has not been the site of much trouble, with no reported complaints in the past five years, a spokesman said.
The NYPD deemed the van crash an accident, finding no criminality, police said.
Mortillaro was working down the block at his locksmiths store, which he has operated for 33 years, when the accident occurred around noon Wednesday on the triangular lot where a gas station once stood.
"I heard a long screech like someone was sliding and then a huge crash," he said.
"I knew something bad had happened."
When he went outside, he saw a van inside the studio where he had planned to work that day until his son, who usually runs the locksmith shop, called in sick. Mortillaro's sculptures, made of steel, brass and keys were gnarled from the impact.
"They were just thrown around like they were nothing," he said.
"I just wanted to sit down and cry."
Four of his sculptures were damaged in the crash: one representing a mother and child, another with concentric circles, another with rings and spheres that represented "our planet, other planets, the universe" and a fourth piece inspired by van Gogh's "Starry Night" that he had arranged to be displayed in the Children's Museum of the Arts, he said.
Mortillaro, who is assessing the cost of the damages with his insurance company, said he would try to repair the mangled art, but that its original ideas were lost.
The important thing, Mortillaro said, was that he had not been standing at his steel work table in the corner of the studio where the van struck.
"This could have been bad," he said. "Everything in that room is made of steel and glass."
His son, Philip Mortillaro Jr., 24, said he was amazed that his father's life might have been saved because he stayed home sick with a cold.
"We're lucky," he said.
"What can I say? It's deep. It's huge. It shakes me up if I think about it."