By KATIE HOOS
One person’s trash is another person’s art.
Local artists Piero Manrique and Mary Ann Lomonaco explored the benefits of recycling and its impact on the environment at the Westchester County Material Recovery Facility Art Gallery and Education Center, which opened on Earth Day, April 22.
Manrique, a Mamaroneck resident, was commissioned to paint four environmental-themed murals for the material recovery facility recycled material art gallery that he said highlight the human relationship with nature.
“Just thinking about recycling and how it helps the environment—reducing the landfills and reducing elements that hurt the environment—gave me the inspiration to really create a reminder as to why we’re doing this,” Manrique, 33, said.
The murals include a depiction of a soaring eagle, turtles swimming in the ocean and a landfill merging with a scenic, natural setting filled with lush greenery and plants.
Born in Lima, Peru, and arriving in Mamaroneck as an undocumented immigrant when he was 13 years old, Manrique said he relied on painting as a means of integration into his new home.
“It was really hard coming from a different culture and not knowing the language,” he said. “Art was one of the main things that helped me merge into the culture.”
Manrique went on to study fine arts at SUNY Purchase College before transferring to Parsons School of Design, where he graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
After working for an architecture firm until 2008—when he lost his job following the market crash—Manrique dedicated his time solely to his art.
“Everything kind of merged and fell into place. I started selling my work and, every year, it has been getting better and better,” he said.
Completing the murals for the material recovery facility exhibit this past winter, Manrique said he hopes visitors to the gallery can connect with his artwork and be inspired to conserve the environment and protect nature.
“I really want people to feel that magical aspect of nature,” he said. “Be not only connected to the pieces, but feel inspiration from them. I want people to feel all the different things that connect us to nature and the animals and realize we’re not so different.”
Perpetuating the same idea of preservation, longtime Larchmont resident Mary Ann Lomonaco created two pieces for the art gallery that are made entirely from re-purposed materials.
“I was always into recycling, but I love the concept that you don’t need to only recycle, but you can transform it into something amazing; I think that whole concept keeps me young,” Lomonaco, 71, said.
The Long Island native graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1979 with a degree in fiber arts and began her art career papermaking, the process of making a piece of paper from a fibrous pulp, which is molded into a thin, flat shape, soaked in water and dried.
After a 20-year career, Lomonaco discovered a new medium.
“I really got into the concept of re-transformation,” she said, adding that when she ground the head of a kitchen mop intending to make paper, she soon realized the kitchen mop itself could be turned
“Kitchen mops were thought of as things that were dirty. They were used to clean, and were not objects of beauty at all,” Lomonaco said. “I think that was a big thrust for me getting into recycling. I began to work with the kitchen mops and, from there, I learned to stand in a new place and look at things that I see all the time differently.”
For the recycling exhibit, Lomonaco created a four-by-six-foot American flag made from recycled aluminum cans and bottle caps as well as an organ pipe-inspired mural made of dried-up pens that were given to her by the county.
Working from the studio in her Larchmont home of 41 years, Lomonaco looks to everyday items to inspire her to create her next piece of art, including an old piano, which she disassembled and made into several mixed media constructions. She has also created pieces made from recycled aluminum cans, labels from pizza boxes, old neckties and small pieces of hardware.
“If you look around, you notice things,” she said, adding she hopes her artwork inspires people to see both art and recycling in a new light. “I want people to first look and say ‘Oh, that’s really beautiful’ and then, secondarily, see that it’s made from pens or something recycled. It should somehow click that it’s not only good for the environment to recycle, but it really is beautiful.”
The material recovery facility, located at 1 Stew Leonard Drive in Yonkers, serves as Westchester’s primary recycling facility and processes more than 70,000 tons of recyclables each year. After undergoing renovations in 2011 to replace all of the equipment that sorts the incoming aluminum, glass and plastic, the county decided to also upgrade the facility’s educational center.
The educational center, which features presentations about the benefits of recycling and tours of the recycling facility for student groups and organizations, underwent a $20,000 renovation in 2013 to add two new flat-screen televisions, freshly painted walls, interior improvements and the installation of the recycled material art gallery.
The gallery features the work of six Westchester artists, including Manrique and Lomonaco, and includes artwork made from recycled or reused materials or hand-painted environmental themed murals.