Murray Hill resident, artist makes her mark on neighborhood

Murray Hill resident, artist makes her mark on neighborhood
Mary Allegretti and Brenda Kato

Murals and mosaics seem to be taking over Murray Hill. Between efforts by the Murray Hill Preservation Association and RouxArt, 15 buildings in the 100-year-old community are host to one type of art or the other, inside or outdoors.

About the time MHPA board member Jason Tetlak threw out the first call-for-artist for Mural No. 1 in April 2016, Kate and Kenny Rouh of RouxArt began an informal goal to tile Murray Hill. The Rouhs recently completed their sixth Murray Hill mosaic, a four-foot-high memorial pillar in the atrium at Murray Hill Baptist Church.

Memorial pillar at Murray Hill Baptist Church, created by RouxArt

Memorial pillar at Murray Hill Baptist Church, created by RouxArt

Ironically, Mural No. 9, which sports both paint and bling, by Murray Hill resident and artist Brenda Kato, was supposed to be Mural No. 1 on a different building, but negotiations with the building’s owner faltered.

Now, thanks to a collaboration by Kato and Springfield glass artist Mary Allegretti, the 25-foot-tall by 18-foot-wide mural, titled “Bloom Where You Are Planted,” was unveiled July 8, sparkling in the afternoon sun.

Kato said sunflowers are a reminder to think positively and give back to the community.

“My sunflower paintings have become very popular because they are a lot of fun. They make people smile and have energy vortex spirals in the middle. I have always loved the huge, dramatic flower,” she said.

Allegretti, whose son, Tony, is executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, added glass bling to the spiral vortex inside several of the sunflower faces.

Kato said Allegretti used to sell her glass work in the Bee Gallery Kato co-owned with a few other female artists. “We had a gallery in the Landing for two years as part of the Off The Grid downtown revitalization project,” said Kato.

Located on the back-alley wall of the J&W Discounts building behind the Edgewood Diner, the 450-square-foot mural was rendered with 12 gallons of paint, not including spray paint, in 10 colors.

Brenda Kato puts the finishing touches on a 25-foot-tall mural a week before its July 8 unveiling.

Brenda Kato puts the finishing touches on a 25-foot-tall mural a week before its July 8 unveiling.

Working full-time as a senior digital marketing specialist for Syniverse, it took Kato over two months of evenings and weekends to complete the project with the help of family and friends who did everything from sweeping the alley and providing refreshments to painting and assisting with the rental lift expenses.

“I told my friends that if they helped me paint that I would put their name on a plaque next to the mural so they could share in the credit and go down in history,” said Kato. “One of the coolest things is that it has brought out some of my friends I have not seen in 20 or more years.”

The artist grew up in Avondale, attended Fishweir Elementary, Lake Shore Jr. High, Robert E Lee High School and the Westside Skills Center. “I entered every art contest I could in high school, and won every one,” she said. “My portfolio got me a scholarship to art college.”

Kato holds a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has worked in a variety of “artistic” positions, including animator, website designer, art director, fine artist and book illustrator.

After living in Astoria, Queens, New York, “near some of the best street art in the world,” Kato moved back to Murray Hill in 2015, to a home she had purchased three years prior.

When Tetlak put out the call-to-artists last year, Kato said she jumped at the chance to contribute to her hometown neighborhood’s public art project but, in hindsight, said she would never do another outdoor mural in hot weather. “I would prefer February,” she laughed.

Kato once taught art at Raines High School, and was thrilled when one of her former students came up from Orlando to help. A childhood friend and a high school buddy also brought family to help with the painting.

“I hope that people will enjoy this mural for a long time,” said Kato. “The best is seeing people smile and want to take a photo or selfie.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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