By Michael Rizzo
WILLIAMSBURG — Turn left at the bottom of the steps of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s St. Paulinus Hall in Williamsburg and your eyes are filled with a colorful mural celebrating this Brooklyn neighborhood and the return of the parish’s annual Giglio Feast.
The mural, the work of artist Theresa Kasun, was the brainchild of pastor Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, who said he “liked the idea of showing the changing neighborhood.”
It is structured as a triptych — a piece of art in three panels — and covers the hall’s north wall of primed sheetrock, running 50 feet across and 15 feet high.
As you face the mural, old Williamsburg is depicted on the left with images of a trolley car, a fruit cart, and the Williamsburg Bridge in reddish-brown sepia tones reminiscent of a vintage photo.
The parish’s annual feast is in the center panel, with vibrant drawings of the lifting of the Giglio tower, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, St. Paulinus of Nola, and St. Cono of Teggiano, the parish’s recent past and present pastors, and Our Lady holding the infant Jesus.
The right side of the mural shows modern Williamsburg in bright colors, featuring its steel and glass high rises and the renovated Domino Park along the East River. The panels are separated by drawings of the U.S. and Italian flags.
“Longtime parishioners will see the stability of the church at the center and their roots in the experience of the feast,” Msgr. Gigantiello said. “For new people moving in, I hope this will spark in them that even as things change, the faith and this church are the anchor of the community.”
Msgr. Gigantiello said he planned to bless the mural during this year’s feast, which runs July 6-17. He is also creating photo reproductions of the mural for people to purchase.
Kasun, a native of Omaha, Neb. who formerly attended St. Margaret’s parish in Middle Village, received the commission after recommendations from local businesses for whom she has painted holiday windows. Working alone beginning earlier this year, she spent three days a week on the project, commuting from Shelton, Conn. to work on it. She expected to finish in three months, but it took four.
“I never did a mural before but a friend said this was my Michelangelo moment,” Kasun said. “It does feel like the Sistine Chapel for me, but I did it standing up.”
“My art captures a moment in time,” she explained. “It’s even better if it brings joy to those who encounter it. Then I feel I’ve accomplished what it means to be an artist.”
On June 27, Kasun made what she considered the final addition to her work. At the suggestion of Msgr. Gigantiello, she painted the logo of the Brooklyn Giglio Boys Club, a local social club and supporter of the feast, on the mural’s center panel.
After tracing the logo on the wall — a technique she used to ensure an accurate re-creation of the image — she painted it in its colors. Other parts of the mural were done freehand based on photos she took while researching the parish, neighborhood, the feast, and its participants.
“My favorite thing to do is paint,” she added. “These skills are the gifts God gave me and this is my way to say thank you and to glorify Him.”
Parish custodian Phil Caponegro said people will be looking for who and what they recognize from each panel. Those include the “Mozzarella Lady” of Tedone Latticini, the old Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Bamonte’s Restaurant, and an NYPD helicopter and an FDNY logo representing the many first responders from the parish, as well as the NYPD chaplaincy of former pastor Msgr. David Cassato, and Msgr. Gigantiello’s chaplaincy for the FDNY.
“When I heard the idea of doing [the mural], I thought it was great,” Caponegro said, “but the actual work is 100 times better. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is so much of what we are and this mural means it’s not going anywhere.”
One person depicted in the center panel as a Giglio “lifter” is 48-year-old parish sacristan Joe Soto, who said his great-grandfather participated in lifts in the early 1900s.
“It’s good to be in it,” Soto said. “It shows we’re not only a faith-filled community but we keep the old traditions alive.”
St. Paulinus Hall also houses the North Brooklyn Angels, a mobile soup kitchen using the hall’s kitchen for meals it offers to residents in the surrounding communities.
Volunteer Donna Sinetar watched Kasun throughout her mural-creating effort, and had nothing but praise for the finished product.
“I love it, we all love it,” she said as she packaged meals for the North Brooklyn Angels’ food truck. “You can pick out real people from the neighborhood. It will be very meaningful for people coming back for the feast.”
At 3 p.m. on June 27, Kasun declared her work was done and stepped back to reflect on what she saw before her. The artist is a fervent New York Mets fan, even adding a small team logo to the mural, and compared what she accomplished to the feats of a current Mets slugger.
“It’s like a Pete Alonso grand slam,” she said. “I’m grateful I hit it out of the park and I did it for the team — the people of the parish.”