Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Pride of Feltonville Community Mural

Click on any image to enlarge

Mural Size: 90’ x 26’ (taller area is 36’)

Location: Feltonville School for Arts and Sciences, 210 E Cortland St. Philadelphia, PA

Sponsors: School District of Philadelphia
Assistant: Erika Matyok
© 2007 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program/ Michael Schwartz

The Pride of Feltonville Mural” embodies the spirit of the neighborhood surrounding the Feltonville School of Arts and Science. I worked with 20 students from the school, their art teacher Trina Brand and my assistant Erika Matoyk. Over the eight weeks we researched the history and theme of the mural; arts and science.

Following colonization Feltonville was primarily a farming community. Fruit trees still volunteer themselves in peoples backyards and along the streets. The school sits between an old factory and a graveyard. The graveyard extends for many acres and is lined with trees. It's a peaceful hilly place. The factory, whose owner Bruce came out one day to introduce himself and compliment the mural, said he was down to a handful of workers. This was once a thriving industrial area. Immigrants poured into the area building track homes and opening hosiery's. Small factories and mills produced clothing, refrigerators and other appliances. Many of the immigrants were Jewish and at least one synagogue was in the area. To depict this I included the Tree of LIfe with the five chakras, as well as King Solomon's Knot - a symbol of wisdom. German, Italian, Irish and English immigrants also populated the area during it’s early history. Now the area is home to immigrant families from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. The mural depicts the spirit of immigrants working to improve the lives of their children. A figure in the sky, painted in browns and blues represents past generations, the hands are extended, wearing workers gloves. From the hands leap their offspring jumping into open books.

To depict the sciences we decided to depict a student investigating the nature around her. She holds up a magnifying glass amidst a field of insects and flowers. We see several areas that are enlarged to show the interior of plants; Water Carriers, Stiffeners, Class Chlorophyceae and Light Catchers. Students are learning the same information in their science classes. Students also added some of their own imagery to the bottom of the mural including a quetzal, an elf, flowers and insects.

The largest figure in the mural is of a young woman holding a basket of peaches, she has gathered the harvest from the place she lives. This figure is the symbol of youth who go to school and live in the area, who have grown up in this place for some period of time. She suggests that if we get to know and cherish things about the places we live, to look at the small miracles all around us, we can raise to great things. Our dreams can come true, if we work hard and take stock of what is right in front of us. It is then that we can find bounty in our lives, be able to share, grow and learn. Appropriate for a place of learning and friendship.

I think that murals help to define a place. They can become landmarks. I’ve tried in this mural to keep the composition simple, accessible and the narrative universal. The meaning can change with time. The color and space in the mural suggest an inner world of the mural, there are spaces that recede, but much of the subject matter appears to be in a fishbowl - pushed up against the picture plane. The idea here is that the school is in many ways an insulated institution - a safe place where students can learn and make friends in relative peace.

I like to have the community get their hands dirty. In addition to the students involvement in the design process and adding their own touches to the mural we had a community paint day (see below). Over 65 people were involved. People were wonderful during this project; the staff, students, faculty and neighbors. I think this will be a mural that has a long and cherished life in this unique Philadelphia neighborhood.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Feltonville School for the Arts and Sciences Mural

"The Pride of Feltonville"

This project is a part of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Beautifying Schools-Transforming Lives project. Since April of this year I’ve been working with a fantastic group of students a remarkable art teacher, Trina Brand and their dedicated principal Ralph Burnley. On June 1, 2007 we held our community paint day. Over 60 people participated, led by the students I have been working with.

As a teaching muralist with MAP I have observed the changes in students as they take part in this program. These measurable outcomes include;

1) Increased willingness to collaborate and communicate differences.

2) Meeting and exceeding the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Academic Standards for Arts and Humanities including a comprehensive understanding of the elements of art, principles of design and historical context of murals.

3) A feeling of accomplishment and pride resulting in higher self esteem.

4) A feeling of being connected to a larger community, of belonging and connectivity.

5) A unique hands on approach to putting into practice what we have learned in the classroom.

6) A reduction in violence because students learn to collaborate and communicate their feelings, to channel their emotions into something positive.

7) a place where everyone feels included and accepted, where differences become strengths.

8) Students report feeling more connected to their creative and poetic sensibilities, thus
teaching students to be divergent non linear thinkers. This skill set is specifically what many employers are looking for in today's competitive global economy.

I’ll be posting more information and images when the mural is finished.

Just after Community Paint Day I received this letter;

School District of Philadelphia Mural Arts Project
Beautifying Schools-Transforming Lives

June 5, 2007

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard or read, our School District Mural Arts Project has been cut from the School District budget for next year.

I am urging you to write and/or email the people whose names are listed at the bottom of this letter to tell them about the wonderful collaboration between the School District and the Mural Arts Program and how it has benefitted your students and your school community.

It would be a great loss to hundreds of children if this program is cut. The comment that most students wrote on the post-test was that working together as a team to create a work of art was the most important thing they learned in the Mural Arts Class. They learned about the history of mural arts, community involvement, developing skills to make a mural and to respect each others’ opinions and abilities.

We have just completed our third year (60 murals) and were hoping for at least another 2 years….we would have liked this grant to have been available for many more years into the future!

I would appreciate your support in this matter and, as soon as possible (I know how busy you all are finishing things at the end of the school year). It would be a great way for you to show your appreciation for the wonderful piece of public art that you have received.

Please cc the emails or letters to me.

Thank you,

Deborah Zuchman
Project Manager
School District of Philadelphia Mural Arts Project
1729 Mt. Vernon Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
T: 215. 685.0739
FAX: 215.685.0757
James Nevels, Chair
Sandra Dungee-Glenn
Martin Bednarek
James Gallagher
Denise Armbrister
c/o School District of Philadelphia
440 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130