The life and legacy of Forest Hills resident Helen Keller will is being commemorated with the commissioning of a tribute mural on the west wall of the Ascan Avenue LIRR underpass.
Long regarded as a courageous figure of the 20th century, Keller became blind and deaf after contracting scarlet fever at just 19 months of age. She would grow up to become a celebrated advocate, author and lecturer.
“Not many people are aware that Helen Keller was a Forest Hills resident from 1917 to 1938,” Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chairman Michael Perlman said. “She was a visionary, leader and forerunner who impacted various lives. The Helen Keller mural and plaque project will hopefully foster tourism, become the subject of walking tours, educate our youth and beautify a banal underpass by transforming it into an artistic and historic passage. The arts are a beneficial tool, where we can celebrate our history and preserve and enhance the character of our communities.”
International muralists Crisp from Australia and Praxis from Columbia will paint the 48-foot-wide mural in partnership with the Queens Economic Development Corporation and the LIRR, and the project is funded by lead sponsor Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. Crisp has painted hundreds of murals worldwide, including “A Tribute to Ascan Avenue and Forest Hills Gardens” in 2017.
“It’s an honor to be invited once again by the community to create another beautiful piece of artwork to reflect Helen Keller’s vast contribution to not only the neighborhood, but the world,” Crisp said. “It’s a unique opportunity to be painting a tribute mural of such a historical figure in the actual place she once lived.”
Keller mastered the manual alphabet and learned to read Braille. At age 9, she began to read lips and communicate. As a graduate of Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, she became the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.
“This is a beautiful project, which covers angles of Helen Keller’s work around the community and her role as a civil rights activist,” Praxis said. “There is a strong amount of research before we started planning the design. It’s a long process that we follow, and it’s good to work on murals that have so much meaning and history.”
Keller lived in a brick-gabled home which she nicknamed “Our Castle on the Marsh.” Today it is home to The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, located at 71-11 112th St., which will host a plague unveiling honoring Keller on June 12 at 3 p.m. and on June 13 at 11 a.m.
“People everywhere have a responsibility to help each other, and Helen Keller is a model of someone who helped herself into creating an amazing life, and she is an inspiration for all of us, to improve our lives and help others,” Rabbi Mark Kaiserman said. “Our synagogue is honored to be on the same property where Keller lived for many years doing such good, and we aim to do the same.”