Margate artist Virgi Mottola was commissioned by the Miss America Organization to create several pieces of Miss America-inspired artwork.
“You don’t know how psyched I was when they called me,” Mottola said. “Just even getting the phone call was a great honor, even if they didn’t choose to place an order.”
The organization has not announced yet what it plans to do with the artwork, and Mottola, 47, said she is unable to release that information. But she said the organization has made “several orders” of her work and she is honored to play a part in the pageant’s homecoming.
Mottola, a trained graphic artist and painter, has spent the past few years focused on creating what she calls vintage-style artwork, most of which is representative of “old-school Absecon Island,” where she was born and raised and still lives.
“It’s feel-good art,” Mottola said of her work. “It makes people feel happy, and it brings back memories.”
Her work includes paintings of the diving horse at Steel Pier, the Traymore Hotel and the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk mascot Mr. Peanut.
She said that when the HBO TV series “Boardwalk Empire” debuted, the then-Eastern Division president of Caesars Entertainment properties, Don Marrandino hired her to create several locally themed pieces to use to decorate the interior of Bally's Atlantic City, one of which was a Miss America-inspired piece.
It was at Bally’s that the Miss America Organization saw the piece and later contacted Mottola about placing an order.
Since receiving the order, she said, she’s been searching the Internet and local libraries for history and old photographs of the Miss America competition to use as inspiration for her paintings.
One of her works is a line of former Miss America titleholders, none of which are actual people, standing before the old Convention Center. Another is of a pin-up girl wearing a pageant sash and sitting on a big beach ball. The Hamid’s Million Dollar Pier sign is in the background.
Mottola said her Miss America artwork has been very popular with her customers, especially since the announcement of the pageant’s return to Atlantic City.
“People love the Miss America pageant,” she said. “When my mother was giving birth to my little sister, it was the day of the pageant, and the doctor said to her, ‘Hey Gloria, can you stop pushing for a minute so I can watch?”
Mottola said she was also ecstatic about the news of its return this year.
“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe they took it away from us to begin with. It really hurt our September,” she said.
From the time she was a child until the pageant was relocated to Las Vegas, Mottola and her family would attend the pageant parade and host a Miss America party at their home, a tradition that will continue this year.
“We’ll sit around and watch the pageant and write all the girls names down so we can make guesses on who will be crowned,” Mottola said. “This year will be even more fun, because we’ll have all of my art hanging around. It’s like decorating for a holiday. We’re getting in the spirit.”
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