December 22, 2021

Local Artist’s “Sicilian Dream” Mural Invites Viewing and Interaction

“A SICILIAN DREAM”: A new mural by local artist Victoria Bell is featured at Nino’s Pizza Star in the Princeton Shopping Center. The work, which took about 120 hours to complete, includes hidden elements for viewers to “search and find” as they view the elaborate piece. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Bell)

By Wendy Greenberg

An eye-catching new mural in a local pizza shop allows viewers to interact as well as view the art. The mural by local artist Victoria Bell, at Nino’s Pizza Star in the Princeton Shopping Center, is getting a lot of attention. “It is so colorful. Everyone is excited,” said owner Nino Spera.

Hidden in the large mural are 12 cars racing; 11 ships sailing; 10 bikini athletes; nine row boats; eight orange trees; seven lemon trees; six bells ringing; five red balloons; four birds singing; three Sicilian flags; two angels hugging; and one pizza star (a slice of pizza). A search and find key is on the artist’s website (, but may be at the restaurant in the future. Bell said it happened to work out to reflect “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The artist calls the 6-by-24-foot mural “A Sicilian Dream,“ and its beginnings go back 17 years, she said. “For my daughter’s fourth birthday party, we planned a party in Grover Park for all her preschool friends but then it began to pour with rain. We all ran up to Pizza Star, and Nino saved the day with his kind hospitality. I painted a Sicilian horse and cart as a thank you for that moment, and then the Colosseum a few years later.”

Spera said those drawings impressed him, and when he decided to replace the shop’s wallpaper that showed scenes of Tuscany, he asked Bell to paint the wall. Bell said she knew that since Spera grew up in Sicily, she would paint those scenes. “I would love to say that I went to Sicily to draw sketches of the countryside, but, in fact, I used imagery from Google Maps as a way to create a mental model of a three-dimensional scene of Sicily.”

Bell had studied mental models with Philip Johnson-Laird, a Princeton University psychology professor, and used photographs of Taormina, Sicily, and flyover screenshots for information on the lay of the land. “As nature is the best reference for drawing, the palm trees and lemon trees were drawn from life,” she said. “Six bells were added to the original sketches, because we are the Bell family and there are six of us. A kind woman on Guyot Street in Princeton allowed me to take photographs of her grape vines and I drew large grape pictures from bunches of grapes hung from my ceiling.”

“My idea of having Mother Nature pour her love into a Pizza Star restaurant was realized, although she is more obvious in the painting than I originally planned,” Bell continued. “Mother Nature takes the form of Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily.”

Bell said the “sense of space is also created by having objects diminish in size by approximately 1 to .618 (my favorite ratio).”

The mural took about 120 hours over several weeks, with ordinary indoor house paint, after the shop was closed for the day. During the process, customers would offer suggestions, and the “search and find” was created. 

Bell studied art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh but graduated with a degree in psychology and earned a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Princeton University. She created a collection of works and a concept, titled “Dream Painters.” She has shown her work at  Triumph Brewery.

Spera is proud of the mural. He noted that Princeton Mayor Mark Freda featured it in an Instagram post (“check out our new mural,” it says). And Bell is pleased too. “Nino and his employees have poured their love into Pizza Star. I highly recommend all their food, but especially his homemade lasagna and walnut salad,” she said.

A time lapse of the mural painting, and the “search and find,” is at