Good Life

Local artist makes her mark around Penn State, State College

Danielle Spewak works with clay in a studio space at Penn State on March 28. Speak has created several mosaics around town, including the blue lobster inside of Maine Bay & Berry Co.
Danielle Spewak works with clay in a studio space at Penn State on March 28. Speak has created several mosaics around town, including the blue lobster inside of Maine Bay & Berry Co.

Dani Spewak graduated from Penn State last December, and while she isn’t quite sure what’s next, she’s left a lasting mark on the area with recent local art installations.

You can find her murals at MorningStar Solar Home and Maine Bay & Berry Co.

Her first venture into public works came as Penn State was seeking an installation for the MorningStar Solar Home. The university created a contest at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, and Spewak’s proposal secured the commission of the work, as well as relative free reign in its artistic direction.

Located near the Arboretum, the home was created for the 2007 Solar Decathlon by a team of students and faculty. The home placed fourth in the competition, and was returned to Penn State where it is now used to power the Sustainability Experience Center with 100% renewable energy.

“I thought it would be a really great experience so I applied,” Spewak said. “I was the winning proposal, so we then moved forward from there.”

By spring 2017, she began a yearlong process of fabricating, designing and working with the sustainability office to form the project. Spewak made a watercolor painting for her proposal, yet the physical manifestation of the tiles upon a wall remained an arduous task.

Becca Newburg, a graduate student in architecture at Penn State and friend of Spewak’s, assisted in the process of placing and grouting the tiles on the wall with mortar. While it took months, Newburg was impressed with the final product.

“Through the colors and shapes she used for the tiles, the mural has a whimsical and playful feel to it that is usually difficult to capture in a tile mural,” Newburg said. “She did a great job and I think her vision was definitely realized.”

The mural displays an ecosystem populated with plants native to Pennsylvania. At 400 square feet, the greenery appears vibrant and relatively uncluttered. The installation was a major hit with the university and locals alike, as Spewak says. Yet, such acclaim came with added pressure.

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The mural by Dani Spewak Cody Goddard, College of Arts and Architecture Photo provided

“A lot of the talk after (the MorningStar mural) was, ‘OK, what’s next?’ ” Spewak said.

This past winter, Maine Bay & Berry Co., which specializes in imported goods from New England, offered Spewak the chance to make a floor mosaic for the shop’s renovation.

The finished product, which took three months to prepare and three days to install, displays a luminous blue-and-white lobster detailed with gold glitter grout.

It’s purposely eye-catching — Spewak wanted patrons to stop in their tracks upon entering the store.

Though some surely take the time to take in a great piece when they see it, she recognizes the need to warp the expectations of those who don’t typically engage with a work of art while purchasing salmon.

“You want people to engage with the process. It’s a lot more than just showing up on site and putting some tiles on a wall. It requires a great amount of conversation and consideration beforehand, because these things are fairly permanent,” Spewak said.

Due to that permanence, works must be given extra consideration as time allows for a piece to be viewed by anyone.

“Public art brings people together, and that is invaluable no matter where you go. Dani skillfully captures the spirit of the place in her work,” Newburg said. “(The MorningStar) mural speaks to sustainability and celebrates craft, the beauty of this place, and togetherness with earth — themes that bring people together and remind them of something greater.”

For now, Spewak is seeking a career as a fabricator. She works often at the Digital Fabrication Lab, and foresees greater job options and stability within that industry.

Spewak is considering a move in the future, but she appreciates the area and its willingness to reckon with art on a public level.

“I think that there are a lot of opportunities here. I think you need to push and find them, and convince people that (a piece) can have a lot of benefits,” Spewak said.