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An early look at the Encore casino’s millions of dollars’ worth of art

Jeff Koons's Popeye.
Jeff Koons's Popeye.Wynn Las Vegas

Las Vegas-style casinos aren’t exactly known for attracting gamblers with modest, taupe decor.

So it’s really no surprise that there’s nothing understated about much of the artwork and design that will adorn the Encore Boston Harbor, the towering palace along the Mystic River in Everett.

Like the 20-foot-high sculpture heads installed outside the casino entrance, the flower-covered merry-go-round just inside, or the giant $28 million statue of Popeye.

But Wynn Resorts’ design and art guru Roger P. Thomas also takes pride in the dainty gouache paintings of jewelry hanging in one of the ladies’ rooms near the lobby (he got them from an antique book dealer in Paris) and hopes visitors will savor the luxury of washing up at a banded white onyx sink vanity (hand picked in Forte dei Marmi, Italy).

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Not to mention the view from the main hotel’s elevator lobby, where three red Venetian crystal chandeliers, each higher than the next, extend through an oval oculus in the floor above to a ceiling adorned with painted flowers.

The main gaming floor of Encore Boston Harbor in Everett. The chandeliers, hand-blown from Italy and infused with gold dust, were moved from Encore Las Vegas.
The main gaming floor of Encore Boston Harbor in Everett. The chandeliers, hand-blown from Italy and infused with gold dust, were moved from Encore Las Vegas.K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal/File 2018/Las Vegas Review-Journal

This is a casino, of course, and visitors will underwrite the extravagance on the gambling floor, in the restaurants, and at the bars.

But when the $2.6 billion complex opens June 23, it will become the largest around-the-clock public art exhibition in Massachusetts, with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of original sculptures, mosaics, paintings, furniture, fabrics, mirrors, and more on display.

Thomas, Wynn Resorts’ top design and development executive, this week gave the Globe a detailed presentation — and at times philosophical disputation — on the art that will complement the 3,100 slot machines, 143 table games, and 88 poker tables.

“We’re not a casino. We’re a resort — with a casino,” he insisted during an hourlong interview in which he described in reverent terms the design features and artwork that adorn the hotel-casino’s 3.1 million square feet.

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A tree of life tapestry hangs in Encore Boston Harbor.
A tree of life tapestry hangs in Encore Boston Harbor.Encore Boston Harbor

“What we’re really doing is using drama, romance, mystery, surprise, delight, joy, all combined with extraordinary anticipation of comfort,” he said, “designing most of the things in the environment completely custom, from chandeliers to furniture, so that you get an extraordinary, uplifting experience — one that makes you feel like the best version of yourself.”

(As we mentioned earlier, casinos — and the people who design them — aren’t prone to understatement.)

“We create things that are entirely unique, so that if you want more of it, you’ll have to come back to us. And that’s one of the reasons we include unique and important works of art,” said Thomas, a 40-year veteran of casino and hotel design. “But we also believe that humans should live with art every day, everywhere.”

That will certainly be true at the Encore, where visitors will be greeted by three “heroically scaled” heads of satin beaded stainless steel by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, Thomas said.

Two of the 20-foot-high sculptures face the hotel, while one looks “wistfully at Boston.”

He offered a paean to the amphora that will grace the Encore entryway— a two-handled jar 7 feet high decorated with a scene of men and women in suits and cocktail dresses.

“Like a Greek amphora, they record the contemporary history of humans at the time,” Thomas said.

He spoke in earnest detail about the flower-covered carousel, the most prominent piece of art that will greet visitors when they walk in. It features 10 horses, including a pegasus, a hippocamp, and a unicorn, “because you shouldn’t have regular horses in our merry-go-round.”

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And then there is “Popeye,” Jeff Koons’s 2,000-pound shiny metal creation that next week will be packed up by eight technicians from Germany and carefully shipped in a custom-fit crate from Las Vegas to Everett. The sculpture, bought for $28 million in 2014, will hold a place of honor near conference rooms named Picasso and Matisse.

As with the carousel, Thomas hopes “Popeye” will impart a sense of “that joy and wonder of childhood.”

The sculpture, safely behind a railing, will surely be a magnet for selfie takers. And while Popeye won’t have Olive Oyl to keep him company, there will be a guard.

Someone who can answer questions and help with photographs but also guard.

“In our experience,” he said, “someone gets really tanked up and they decide it’s a good idea to climb the railing and get in with Popeye. We can’t let that happen.”

Thomas spoke with equal admiration about art that might blend into the background a bit more.

There will be more than 15 mirrors in the main hotel’s check-in area, picked out from all around the world.
There will be more than 15 mirrors in the main hotel’s check-in area, picked out from all around the world.Encore Boston Harbor

For example, there will be more than 15 mirrors in the main hotel’s check-in area, picked out from all around the world. Two large rectangular ones, from Venetian mirror maker Fratelli Barbini, are carved with “lyrical little patterns” and adorned with roped glass cane and flowers, he said.

Why put art mirrors in the check-in lobby of a hotel-casino?

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“As you move around the space and your relationship to the surfaces changes, they animate themselves,” he said. “The light dances over them, and the room has life.”

Lest you think Thomas’s — and the Encore’s — art and design sensibility is unanchored from more practical concerns, consider this: At a Las Vegas casino Thomas designed, the evening high-heel traffic sometimes shatters the glass mosaics inlaid in the marble floors, and a special artisan must come around each morning between 3 and 5 a.m. to fix the broken pieces.

“The pressure of a Jimmy Choo stiletto heel is 650 pounds per square inch,” he said matter-of-factly.

So what of the floral glass mosaics inlaid in the marble floors that will grace the entryway of the Encore Boston Harbor, near the carousel and the amphora and not far from the red chandeliers? Have no fear, they’re made of thicker glass.

“Jimmy Choo-proof!” he said.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.