Vanse embraces the NYC subway

Community members standing in front of the Brooklyn Square subway mural.

Photo courtesy of Christina Helene Lyngsvaag Breisnes
This staircase now beautifully misleads passersby into thinking a subway is near.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The American Festival in Vanse, Norway, celebrated its 11th year this June. The festival’s slogan is “The best thing that happened to Lista since Brooklyn. So it is no surprise that this square is decked out with Brooklyn memorabilia.

Hanging high in the square is a NYC subway sign for the Brooklyn Bridge Station, which was donated by Maurice Bergman on behalf of the Scandinavian East Coast Museum. The museum has a Sister Communities Agreement with the Lista Kommune, which was also signed by Bay Ridge, Brooklyn’s Councilman Vincent Gentile. A few years ago, he sent a gift to Vanse: a New York City flag, which now flies in Brooklyn Square.

This year a new original piece of art was added to the locale, replicating New York’s ubiquitous yet unique subway mosaics. These colorful murals date back to the subway’s earliest days and the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Association) recently resurrected this decorative art form with a competitive contest for new mosaics. Each one enhances the station it represents in not only an artistic but also a historical way. For example, at the Central Park Zoo subway station, the tiles depict polar bears, birds, and other animals who call this zoo home.

The New York-themed mural in progress.

Photo courtesy of Liv Siri Jølle Skårdal
Claudia Shaldervan’s mural in progress this June. You can already see the amazing results.

Christina Helene Lyngsvaag Breisnes, proprietor of the popular store Trunken, which flanks one side of the square, had a marvelous idea to enhance the area. She loved the mosaic subway designs found in many NYC subway stations and wanted to replicate one for Vanse. It happens that the stairway dividing Trunken’s building from the next very much resembles a subway entrance. This is where the previously donated subway sign hangs high.

After careful research, Breisnes fell in love with one of the oldest, most traditional mosaics. The challenge then became who would be able to create such an intricate piece. She didn’t have to look far. The book store, Lista Bokhandel, located just across the alleyway from her store, was run by a ceramic artist, Hans Buch-Iversen, who had previously made some mosaics behind a few Oslo pubs. His results are stunning.

“The biggest challenge [with the Brooklyn Square mosaic] is that this should be a low cost project, so I had to find tiles with friends and acquaintances. It also had to be frost-proof,” Buch-Iversen told me.

“I used the mosaic of Times Square as a starting point. I am pleased with the result. There are many who have come and said that it is just like in the United States.”

While writing this story, I was told about another interesting enhancement to Brooklyn Square, a new mural painted on one side of the 8th Avenue Bar and Supperclub. The result is a Brooklyn lovefest, with a prominent brownstown and views of the Statue of Liberty and iconic skyscrapers. It was commissioned by 8th Avenue co-founder Liv Siri Jølle Skårdal and painted by American artist Claudia Shaldervan. She worked on it during this year’s American Festival. Spectators could watch it being created.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.