The grout-bearing stork, or, when your “baby” is your art

Guests at the shower brought not diapers, but grout
Guests at the shower brought grout, not diapers

Unless you happen to dwell in the 1% stratosphere of mega-superstars, you know the eternal artistic struggle: how to make enough money to pay the bills, and still leave time for projects of passion. Artist and educator Katrina Alexy came up with a solution: She calls it an art-ernity leave. She got her boss at The Pilgrim School to give her an unpaid year off from her job as an art teacher, figuring that she’d never go on maternity leave (she loves the 200 kids she wrangles at her job, and has never wanted children of her own.)

Then, she set about (with the help of City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office) navigating the bureaucracy, securing the various permits to make what she calls her “love letter to Echo Park.” To launch her on her way, there even was a shower, complete with a stork-adorned cake and gifts of grout and trowels. (Home Depot didn’t have a gift registry.)

And now, eight months later, here’s her creation: this intricate, almost-finished 40-foot mosaic wall on Logan Street, adjacent to the parking lot where a farmers market is held each week. Fruits and vegetables in ceramic tiles made by area women festoon this artwork, along with tiles that were headed for the dumpster. The project is dedicated to Isa-Kae Meskin, an iconic 80-something long-time resident of the area who helped make the market possible.

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Almost done: a mosaic wall in Echo Park, the product of an art-ernity leave

“There’s a whole bunch of us feisty ladies out there making things, working on community projects, environmental causes, etc., and I never hear about us,” Alexy said. She has blogged about her art-ernity leave in the hopes of inspiring other people to do the same and to buck the naysayers. “Everyone said I was crazy. I saved up, I’m living really simply. Life is so short. I just want to do what I’m really passionate about.”

This passion will endure, and spread joy to all who see it. Indeed, even as she worked on the mural the other day, virtually every single passerby stopped to chat and comment on the piece.

If you’ve got an idea for a public art work, the Councilman O’Farrell’s office wants to hear from you: call 213-473-7013 or email Councilmember.ofarrell@lacity.org.

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Local women in Echo Park made tiles of fruits and vegetables to add to the materials Katrina donated
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All of the other tiles were discards that would have otherwise wound up in the dumpster.
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Katrina donated her time and materials to create her “love letter to Echo Park.”

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Two of the artist's students at the Pilgrim School happened by while Katrina was working on her "baby."
Two of the artist’s students at the Pilgrim School happened by while Katrina was working on her “baby.”