After textile designer/artist Paola Belotti transformed a graffiti-laden wall in a Maspeth alleyway into a giant Tuscan mural last August, she not only elevated a “wall of shame” to a “wall of fame,” she brought a sense of peace and beauty to many of the local residents.
The mural was born through a happy accident that occurred while at an afternoon barbecue in the alleyway behind Maspeth Wines & Liquors on 69th Street. After learning of her talent, the owner had asked her to simply cover the graffiti behind his store that she noted “looked terrible.” She suggested a mural of Tuscany to reflect the theme of wine.
Through the three weeks it took to complete, the mural unfolded organically – without any sketches.
“It is everything in my mind. I grew up in Italy where I could see vineyards, barrels, lemon trees, wall fountains with lions, bricks and columns,” noted Belloti of her work.
She recalls meeting residents who were curious and joyful at the transformation. She said many commented on how peaceful it made them feel. She also recalls hearing local employees making plans to lunch in the alleyway, so they could enjoy “lunch in Tuscany.”
“With my mural I wanted to give a message of simple beauty and serenity, instead of the screaming graffiti, and I think I achieved that,” she said.
Painting the mural also gave her the “therapy” she needed during a difficult time.
“I was going through all these difficult moments. My Green Card had been denied … I was really struggling.”
The struggle is ongoing for Belotti. After 14 years of being a successful textile designer with a Midtown firm, she is now facing deportation.
Originally from Lake Como, Italy, she was recruited to New York in 1997 under a work visa. When her Green Card was denied at the same time she was laid off in 2010, she knew she was facing deportation. She is now here under a tourist visa and is appealing her Green Card.
Belotti claims her lawyer did not submit a thorough Green Card application back in 2002.
She says she has put thousands of dollars into renewing her visas and believes it would be an “extreme hardship” to start her life and career over again in Italy.
Belotti calls art her “passion” and wants to continue her career in the U.S. because she believes she has “much to offer.”
“I own an an apartment,” she said. “I have my own bank account and no debts.I have always obeyed the law and have paid my taxes diligently from the first day I arrived in the U.S. I was hoping to one day have the privilege of voting.”
Since the mural, Belotti has been commissioned for various paid and unpaid projects, but has yet to find a permanent job.
Although somewhat downtrodden by the struggles, she remains determined.
“At least I can say I tried,” she said. “I will try hard to stay until the last straw.”