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Bulgarian Immigrant Celebrates 'Liberty' With His Art - 2003-07-02

July 4th marks the anniversary of the United States' independence from Great Britain in 1776. Americans mark their country's birthday with celebrations of their freedom and liberty.

At a corner on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, right in front of a church, the spirit of American liberty lives. Dozens of masks of the Statue of Liberty's face lean against a bicycle. Behind the masks, a middle-aged man is sitting and talking to people.

Pedestrian: Liberty George is your name?

Dukov: George is my name.

People call him "Liberty" George, because he creates masks with the face of Statue of Liberty. His real name is Georgi Dukov. He is a native of Bulgaria. He immigrated to New York State from Bulgaria 12 years ago. In 1999, Mr. Dukov moved to New York City and began making his masks.

"The Statue of Liberty I chose because this is the symbol of American Freedom," he said. "This is a connection with American spirit."

On the masks, based on the face of the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Dukov imposes a variety of colorful symbols such as international flags, New York City maps, and landscapes. The masks catch the eyes of people walking along the avenue.

"It reminds me of carnival," said Irma, who is visiting from the southern state of North Carolina. "I was brought up in Switzerland. We used to wear these masks."

"This has all the firemen on it," added Joann Siegler of Cleveland, Ohio, in the Midwest, who is particularly attracted to a mask that represents New Yorkers who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks. "I think that is quite unique," she said. "This is a nice memorial. And our freedom is the Statue of Liberty."

Georgi Dukov follows the "papier mache" technique in creating the masks of the Statue of Liberty face.

"First, I make a layer from water, paper," he described. "And the next sheet, I put paper with glue, flour, glue. So I make a couple of sheets. So is the technology to make one mask. After that when I finish, I put it to dry for a couple of hours. When the mask dries I pull the first sheet wet paper which is dry, I cut in around from the mask. And so is the mask ready for collage."

"Liberty" George transports the Statue of Liberty masks on a bicycle from his home in the borough of Brooklyn. His trip includes crossing a bridge to the island of Manhattan.

"Now I am coming in the middle of Queensboro Bridge," said Mr. Dukov. "So I cannot ride the bike, but I push a box with Lady Liberty mask. And I think I am so happy that I am Bulgarian and that I created the Lady Liberty mask, and I transport it to 55th Street and Fifth Ave."

Georgi Dukov took part in a recent theatrical performance written and presented by immigrants. He tells his story in Bulgarian about his journey to the United States more than a decade ago. Another actor interprets his story into English.

Four of Liberty George's masks have found a permanent home at the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Museum.

"I think his work is outstanding," said Diana Pardue, chief curator of the museum. "It is a different way to look at art that relates to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But his work has been a very positive addition to the Museum collection."

Georgi Dukov is now working on a special project for the Ellis Island Museum. He is creating a 180-centimeter mask of the face of the Statue of Liberty.