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The Big Picture—Mural Art in Philadelphia
October 31, 2006, Volume 53, No. 10

Just Before Fall
Just Before Fall (above) is a series of three murals.
Jewels of Mantua
Jewels of Mantua (above and below) is comprised of two murals.

The Big Picture: Mural Art in Philadelphia—an academically-based community service course (ABC)—combines theory with practice. It has been taught at Penn for the last several years by Jane Golden, the founder and director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. From 2001 to the present, over 100 Penn students have worked with professional mural artists, community members and volunteers to create 15 mural projects, including Reaching for Your Star, Holding Grandmother’s Quilt, A Family Garden, and Reading: A Journey, in Mantua and East Parkside. More than 50 youth aged 12-17 who participated in the ArtWorks! anti-truancy program, facilitated by the Mural Arts Program and funded by the Department of Human Services, have been served. Two mural projects have been created during the 2005-2006 school year, Just Before Fall and Jewels of Mantua.

The class in the fall semester of 2005, created Just Before Fall; the main mural is located at 3911 Lancaster Avenue. Artists James Burns, Donald Gensler and Jane Golden were assisted by Ernel Martinez, Felix St. Fort, Gabe Tiberino, and Penn students: Brittany Bonnette, Tracey Gilbert, Samuel Huntington, Luzselenia Loeb, Claire Mahler, Catherine Megley, Jessie Pastore, Abagial Poses, Soleil Roberts, Benjamin Schneider, Kristin Wentzel, and Debbie Yong and students from the ArtWorks! site at Intercultural Family Services. Build out by David Garcia. Mural mosaics and pavers by Mike Smash and Juan Dimida. It was completed in January 2006. Method: Grid and mosaic, with build-out. The mural was sponsored by Bank of America, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green Program, Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), and the Department of Human Services Intensive Delinquency Prevention Program.

  Just Before Fall is a series of three murals that start at 3911 Lancaster Avenue and progress down and across the street. The property owner at 3911 Lancaster, the main mural site, owns/operates a day spa, so asked for a “nature” theme to support the holistic “mind-body-spirit” approach her salon promotes. The beautiful, falling leaves are meant to represent a change that transcends the seasons. The leaves fall from the majestic tree and move through the murals on the opposite side of the street, which incorporate images of community leaders and youth. In one vignette, a woman looks back on her life. In another, a young boy looks forward to the future. Mosaics were incorporated to create a sense of “environment,” connecting the murals to the sidewalk pavers commissioned by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society/Philadelphia Green Program as part of an adjacent project.

—James Burns


The class in the spring semester of 2006 created  Jewels of Mantua, located at 631-635 North 36th Street. Artists Shira Walinsky and Jane Golden were assisted by Diana Gonzalez and students from the Big Picture mural class, along with students from the Caring People Alliance ArtWorks! Anti-truancy site. The mural was completed in June 2006.  Method: Grid and mosaic. Sponsored by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green Program, Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), Department of Human Services Intensive Delinquency Prevention Program, and the Ford Foundation.

To create Jewels of Mantua, Penn students began the process of theme development by interviewing Mantua residents about what makes Mantua unique. Students repeatedly heard about the interrelatedness of the people of Mantua. These connections may come from the church community or families which have lived in proximity and known each other for years. These connections are a great source of support. This project is comprised of two murals. One mural focuses on the past with a series of old family photos (derived from the neighborhood) collaged with names of families and individuals who have supported Mantua in various aspects. The other mural incorporates newer images of Mantua residents and a Langston Hughes poem about the idea of growth and connections between generations. Interspersed in the design are patterns derived from a variety of textiles.

PHS’ Philadelphia Green Program added a great deal to the project by reseeding, putting in a new fence, and doing some other planting to the lot which is in between these murals. In addition to the two murals, Penn students worked with students from the anti-truancy site at Caring People Alliance on a smaller mural focusing on the ideas found in the poem by Langston Hughes.

—Shira Walinsky

Jewels of Mantua

Almanac - October 31, 2006, Volume 53, No. 10