Late Suffolk student's LIRR art vision a reality

Daniel Ruperto, right, husband of the late Felicia Daniel Ruperto, right, husband of the late Felicia Ortiz Ruperto, walks along the Felicia Ortiz Ruperto gallery alongside longtime friend Johnny Barbero. A photograph of Barbero is featured in the art gallery on Suffolk Avenue in Central Islip. (Oct. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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The late Felicia Ruperto would have been proud of the outdoor photo gallery bearing her name that opened Sunday in Central Islip, her family said.

Ruperto, 52, of Medford, died in August 2012, after being hit by a minivan while riding her bike in Bellport.

The mother of two was studying art at Suffolk County Community College to become a professional photographer.

She proposed a project to beautify rides on the Long Island Rail Road by placing art on buildings along its tracks. Her classmates continued the work she started with them before her death, said Ruperto's husband, Daniel Ruperto, 52, of Medford.

"She'd be very proud to see her pictures standing along all of these," he said about the gallery. "I'm very grateful to the professor and the class."

The gallery's "Art in Transit" show -- located outside of Central Islip Plumbing Supply and near the LIRR station -- features 15 weather-resistant canvas photos affixed to 40-foot-long, 8-foot-tall containers used to store plumbing supplies.

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Subjects range from portraits to an eerie black-and-white photo of a Ferris wheel.

Rob Goldman, the class' adjunct photography professor, said the students rode the train from Ronkonkoma to Jamaica, asking building owners for permission to hang up work.

"It's really, really hard to convince people that a vision can become a reality," he said. "Everybody said no."

Jim Willow Suozzo, owner of the plumbing business, said yes, and students raised more than $3,800 in 30 days via Kickstarter, a fundraising website.

Suozzo said they put the containers "in a way so that oncoming traffic can see it and . . . it can be an ongoing art show."

Suozzo hopes to expand the gallery with town photos from the Central Islip Historical Society, along with photos of teenagers as part of an anti-drug "I Matter" campaign organized by Goldman.

But Suozzo said he is concerned that Islip Town officials could shut down the gallery because in 2012 they told him the containers violated town zoning code for outdoor storage. Islip Town officials were not available for comment Sunday.

Suffolk County Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) presented Suozzo with a certificate of appreciation, saying, "It would have been unfair to have these trailers removed. . . . I thought that was a request that really would infringe on the business. . . . It is a beautiful project."

For photographer Lizzee Dailey, 21, of Ronkonkoma, the gallery offers more exposure for her work.

"You don't envision something this big. It's unbelievable," Dailey said of the project students started with Felicia Ruperto. "This whole thing is definitely very bittersweet because we lost her . . . but she's left such an impact on us. . . . We were lucky to have known her."

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