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Communication Over Alexander’s Mural Move Causes Controversy

5-29-15

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Remember the giant Stephen Knapp mural on the side of Alexander’s Department Store in Paramus? The 15 pallets of panels that make up the approximately 50 foot by 200 foot mural were temporarily separated yesterday amid a dispute between its caretakers.

“It’s resolved. We own the mural, so it’s resolved,” said Bergen Museum First Vice President Dorothy Nicklus.

The iconic mural was worth a whopping $1.2 million at last appraisal. It also has sentimental value for generations of locals who grew up with the massive public art piece.

So, when the Alexander’s building was demolished in the late ‘90s, Carlstadt Mayor Will Roseman and then-Bergen Museum President Peter Knipe say they stepped in to save it, brokering a deal with the real estate company.

“And I said, ‘Listen, would you guys be the steward of this mural for the people of Bergen County? We need a not-for-profit.’ And they were ecstatic,” Roseman said.

But Bergen Museum wasn’t a bricks and mortar institution at the time. And, until they had a space to accommodate the enormous artwork, it would be stored in the Carlstadt Public Works building. It’s remained wrapped up on pallets in the garage for the last 20 years. That is, until yesterday morning when two flatbed trucks arrived to bring the pallets from Carlstadt to their new home in Paterson’s Art Factory.

“The citizens are finally going to be able to see this piece of art,” said Nicklus.

Nicklus says the art work was at risk of being kept in the yard of the Public Works lot with a tarp protecting it.

Art Factory General Manager David Garsia was excited to showcase the work and would pay the hefty $15,000 fee to move it.

While both the Bergen Museum and Roseman say a letter was sent advising that the museum had arranged for pickup on Thursday, Roseman claims he never saw it before the pickup date. The borough was closed Friday and Monday for Memorial Day, and the mayor hadn’t stopped by on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Wednesday night a reporter called me about the mural, and I knew nothing about it,” Roseman said. “But what frightened me was when I spoke to both Dorothy and Dr. Waldron, they each told me that later on, they’d probably sell the sign.”

Dr. James Waldron, the Museum’s president, says the work will not be sold, only displayed. But that’s a promise Roseman wants in writing.

Though the work is owned by the Museum, Roseman says selling the work would go against the original intention of the acquisition.

So the mayor says, he sent word to his Department of Public Works to stop the transfer. With 12 of the pallets already loaded onto the truck, that left just three to remain in Calstadt — as a deposit of sorts.