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.

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