People’s Playground painter brings works to Bay Ridge

People’s Playground painter brings works to Bay Ridge
Photo by Steve Solomonson

This summer, Coney Island is coming to Bay Ridge.

The visionary behind the iconic sideshow murals of sword swallowers and fire breathers — on the Coney Island USA building at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 12th Street — is set to open an exhibit of her work at the Art Room school on Third Avenue between 87th and 88th streets on August 4.

For the Gravesend-born Marie Roberts, an exhibit in Bay Ridge will fulfill a childhood dream.

Her family drove into the neighborhood every year when she was just a young girl, to marvel at the Bay Ridge Community Council’s Halloween Window-Painting Contest — which Roberts said was her first real exposure to art.

“My father would take me to see these windows and I remember wishing that someday I could be as good an artist as that,” said Roberts. “I think that looking at those Bay Ridge windows as a child helped instill my love of public art, of having real art in accessible places so that all people could see it. That’s what we do at the sideshow.”

Roberts’s roots in the People’s Playground run deep: one of her uncles was a talker at the Dreamland circus sideshow in the 20s, while two others were working the infamous Dante-themed Hellgate ride the night it burst into flames that torched the entire amusement park.

Her father served as chauffeur to the legendary freak show performer Zip What Is It.

In 1995, Roberts — then an art teacher at Fairleigh Dickinson University — approached Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun about her interest in the banners for Zigun’s new building.

It’s a gig that wound up becoming her own.

“I fell in love with this American genre,” said Roberts. “It was a project which utilized all of my training as an artist and also drew upon my family roots.”

Today Roberts’s studio sits above the Coney Island USA sideshows — where her canvas murals for the venue’s acts have earned her national attention.

When the Art Room opened in 2010 and began offering painting and drawing classes to neighborhood kids, its owners Leigh Holliday and Justin Brannan — longtime fans of Roberts’s work — asked her to create a banner for the school. This year, they are debuting their professional artist exhibition program. For Roberts, it’s another opportunity to make her art — from her murals to smaller watercolor drawings to Asian-style scroll paintings — available to the people of her native borough.

“I love that the Art Room is a space dedicated to art in the heart of Brooklyn,” Roberts said. “I am delighted that Bay Ridge has embraced it for all that it has to offer its younger — and now older — denizens.”

Marie Roberts at the Art Room [8710 Third Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets in Bay Ridge. (347) 560–6572]. August 4, 8 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

Coney Island, baby: Painter Marie Roberts will showcase her iconic murals alongside never-before-seen drawings at Bay Ridge’s Art Room school on August 4.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

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