Józef Sławiński - Table of Contents    .........................     Public Art  - Table of Contents

2008 photos
Joseph Calasanctius Mural
E. H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY




Józef Sławiński (YOO sive  swa VIN ski)



Original 1967 location:


2008 location:

Elmwood Museum District


The size and four color sgraffito

Sgraffito: A type of decoration executed by covering a surface, as of plaster or enamel, ofone color, with a thin coat of a similar material of another color, and then scratching or scoring through the outer coat to show the color beneath.

Slawinski extended the technique to four layers of cement, each in a different color.

For much more information (and photographs), see Josef Slawinski Artworks.

Excerpts from
  Choosing Icons
by Bruce Fisher
July 5, 2007
 Artvoice  (online Nov. 2014)

The Piarist priests had acquired Graycliff in 1951. By thattime, the estate had already passed from the Martin family. The Piarists knew what they were getting: a summer home designed by afamous architect, a structure lacking a ready purchaser other than themselves, a structure in need of some change in order to make itwinter-habitable. They also knew their own mission.

The Piarists are a teaching order whose founder was a 17th-centurySpaniard named Josef Calasanz. In Latin, Calasanz is Calasanctius. Calasanctius is the name the order has given to many of the schools ithas founded, including their school, now closed, in Buffalo.

The bare fact of this story is that in 1967, the Piarists commissioneda work of art to commemorate their order’s 350th anniversary. The art was a mural, a sgrafitto, depicting St. Joseph Calasanctius and theabandoned children whom he saved from the streets of Rome, where Calasanctius and his fellow priests had gathered them up, housed themand educated them, just as the “red priest” Antonio Vivaldi would so famously later do for the abandoned girls of Venice.

In 1967, these [Piarist] émigrés commissioned a Polish-born muralistnamed Jozef Slawinski to put his sgrafitto

When the Graycliff Conservancy took possession of the estate in 1999, the preservationists wanted the dormitory demolished and the muralremoved.

It took four years, until 2003, to raise enough money toremove the Piarists’ mural from the dormitory, which was then demolished. It took almost two more years to relocate the mural. (Theengineers who did the job were the same ones who’d moved the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.) The mural is now on the campus of Buffalo StateCollege.

Jozef Slawinski’s work is of the same era and dimension as the Mexicanmuralist Diego Rivera’s. It is public, its scale is large, its subject matter is heroic, and it is aggressively political. The simplicity ofSlawinski’s composition is deceptive: it seems to indicate naivete or primitivism. But to recall the artist’s education in pre-war Poland,and to reflect on the rapid onset of overwhelming change forced by currents in politics and in the arts in that place and at that time, isto begin to recognize his assertions. The icons of Orthodoxy are reflected in this work. Slawinski employed the planar andheroic didacticism of the Byzantine imperial style, rather than the fleshy and rounded and muscle-detailingSoviet imperial style, and in that choice of style is a political assertion.

The Calasanctius mural is of the Catholic priest who began freeeducation, education as liberation and empowerment of the poor, but of course not the kind of socialist or revolutionary empowerment that wasthe subject of the other muralists of the mid 20th century. The central figure in the Calasanctius mural is the teacher. The women are iconic Magdalenes visiting from Byzantine frescoes. The doubting men of Rome look likesenators of great political stature and power, but they are marginalized and dwarfed by the presence of the humble saint, whosework and subject and focus is Christ-like, and thus noble. These tensions reveal Slawinski as thus an emphatically political artist. Hispolitics are the politics of John Paul II - the pro-labor, pro-Solidarity subversive from Krakow who understood the power of theSoviet empire, and who undermined it with his own.

The only physical evidence of the Piarists’ former presence in Buffalois an incongruous piece of what looks like religious art standing in an alcove behind the library of a public college. But it is a handsomework. It is powerful, even there in its curious new context.
technique to commemorating Calasanctius.Slawinski created a 12-by-18-foot mural a foot thick consisting of layers of black, white, yellow and red concrete.

Graycliff, 2002

The mural at Graycliff where the commission to  Slawinski was given by the Piarist Fathers. Bruce Fisher and the Polish Arts Club, led by Peter Gessner, arranged financing to move the mural to the Buffalo State College campus after the Graycliff Conservancy decided to demolish the building which was not part of the original Graycliff estate. Weight of the moved wall: 18 tons.  Restoration of the mural was by a Czech immigrant who was loaned Slawinski's tools by the artist's widow, Wanda Slawinska.

Slawinski working on the mural   

North elevation, E. H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College        Note mural towards left


St. Joseph Calasanctius before a panoramic view of Rome; surrounding him are the children he sought to educate

St. Joseph Calasanctius founded the order

Four layers of cement, each in a different color: black, red, off-white and yellow               This image is located near the upper left of the mural, with two further details below:

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

Castellammare del Golfo in upper right

Street urchins beating a girl.  Calasanctius extends a loving hand to them  in lower left

Lower left detail

Lower left detail

Well-behaved students in the school that Calasanctius founded - perhaps the first public school in the world               Lower right detail

See also:

Photos and their arrangement © 2008 Chuck LaChiusa
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