St. Calasanctius Mural at Graycliff
Saving Sławiński's sgraffito from destruction

Summary: A magnificent cement mural of St. Joseph Calasanctius, created in 1967 by the noted Polish muralist, Józef , is in danger of being destroyed. The immense 12 -foot by 18-foot mural is an important piece of Western New York's cultural heritage. Currently located on the Graycliff estate in Derby, NY, it is affixed to an exterior wall of a building which, not being structurally sound nor part of the estate's original Frank Lloyd Wright plan, is scheduled to be demolished in June 2002. An effort is being made to secure the $106, 455 required to preserve the cement mural by moving it to a location in Buffalo's Museum District, a glassed-in vestibule of Assumption Church on Amherst Street where, following restoration, it will be on view 24 hrs a day, 365 days of the year. To-date, almost $70,000 has been raised. Unfortunately, this includes a $24,000 appropriation from the City of Buffalo which, due to the City's fiscal crisis, has been frozen and may be lost.

The Artist: Józef Sławiński (born 1905, Poland -died 1983, Buffalo), trained in Poland and Italy as a muralist, worked in a variety of media, including wrought iron, hammered copper, and scratched tempera, but his favorite was sgraffito, an ancient and exacting technique which involves laying down two layers of cement of different color and creation of an image on the wall by removing, while still wet, cement from top layer to show the color of the one underneath. Sławiński extended the technique to four layers of cement, each in a different color. He first visited western New York in 1961-63. During that visit he created several works of art, including a John F. Kennedy Memorial at Stella Niagara and ten sgraffiti on the walls of the presbytery of Assumption Church. In 1964, commissioned to create a number of sgraffito panels for a chapel in Athol Springs, a suburb of Buffalo, he was able to return to the States on an immigrant visa,. To obtain the visa, his sponsors were required to document that no other living artist in the United States could create such artwork. Settling in Western New York, he continued to create works of art until his death. Though his work in sgraffito, wrought iron, hammered copper and tempera are found throughout the United States, his richest body of work is in the Buffalo Niagara region and includes art in Buffalo's City Hall, the Erie County Medical Center, local schools and colleges and many area churches. It is a significant legacy. An outstanding artist, Sławiński has been compared to such great Mexican muralists as Diego Rivera.

The Mural: The mural shows St. Joseph Calasanctius before a panoramic view of Rome; surrounding him are the children he sought to educate. It was commissioned in 1967 by the Piarist Fathers, then owners of the Graycliff estate, to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Piarist order by St. Calasanctius - who in 1597 had opened Europe's first free school for poor children in Rome. Sławiński, an outstanding master of the sgraffito, advanced the technique by increasing the number of layers from two to four; adding red and yellow to the traditional black and white cement layers. Ted Pietrzak, the Director of the Burchfield-Penny Art Gallery terms the mural “a testimony to the talents of an important immigrant artist ... a demonstration of his maturity and insight” Effectively three dimensional in its structure, the mural has been damaged by the freezing-thawing cycles of Western New York's climate. Restoration of the mural willl not present a major problem both because the quasi geometric nature of the images and because the pigments being an integral part of the cement, have not faded and will be easy to match.

The Plan: The task of saving the mural is a major project, but one that the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo - a cultural organization of some 400 members and 1200 supporters has undertaken upon the urging of the Buffalo Art Commission,. First, it identified Assumption Church on Amherst Street in Buffalo as the location of a glassed-in exterior vestibule of sufficient dimensions to house the mural, protect it from the elements, yet render it visible from the street at all times. The plan, readily agreed to by the Church's pastor, Rev. Jedrzejewski, will place the mural within one-half mile of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Museum, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, and the Albright —Knox Art Gallery, adding to the attraction of the Olmsted Crescent. The Church is also a logical choice since ten sgraffiti Sławiński created when he first visited the United States in 1961, grace its sanctuary. To effectuate the plan, the Club had a restoration company, McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory, Inc., and a moving company, International Chimney, Inc., evaluate the matter and propose a plan. A local architectural firm was asked to provide estimates for the necessary changes to an exterior glassed-in vestibule at the Church. Together the estimates come to $106,445.

Graycliff: In 1951, Graycliff, the summer home that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Mr. and Mrs. Martin on a 70 foot cliff overlooking Lake Erie back in 1926-27, was purchased by the Piarist Fathers to be the mother house of their order in the United States. The ranks of the Piarists, renown in Hungary and Poland for their excellent schools, were swelled significantly following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when its forceful suppression by Soviet troops resulted in an efflux of a portion of the Hungarian population. To accommodate at Graycliff the influx of some 47 young Hungarians, the priests, with the help of volunteers, built a boarding house next door to Wright's structure. It was on the side of this structure that in 1967, the Piarist Fathers commissioned Sławiński to create the St. Calasanctius mural. In the Calasanctian tradition, the Piarists opened in Buffalo the Calasanctius Prep School became, for a period of years, one of the most noted schools in the area, devoted to enlarging the intellectual and artistic horizon of its students. The sgraffito remains a tangible reminder of the intellectual challenge that the arrival of the Piarist Fathers to Western New York and their establishment of the Calasanctius School presented to Buffalo and the surrounding area. In 1998, the Graycliff estate was sold to the Graycliff Conservancy which has been moving rapidly to restore the estate to Frank Lloyd Wright's original plan. As part of this process, it has scheduled the demolition of the building to begin in June 2002, a fact that adds a note of urgency.

Fundraising: To date, almost $70,000 has been raised. Contributors include many individuals as well as the Bay Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, Key Bank, the Kosciuszko Foundation, M & T Bank, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Polish Arts Club, the County of Eire, and the City of Buffalo. The $24,000 appropriation from the latter has however been frozen and may be lost because of the City's fiscal crisis. Contribution checks should be made out the St. Calasanctius Mural Fund and sent to the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo, 3210 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214. Telephone: (716) 837-8879