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The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program's Penn Connections

April 26, 2011, Volume 57, No. 31

Several murals that are among the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s vast collection have Penn connections. In some cases it is the subject of the mural, in others the artists had Penn affiliations, as well as murals that involved Penn students.

On Saturday, April 30, a mural in honor of Julian Abele (1881-1950) will be dedicated at Julian Abele Park at 10 a.m. at 2132 Montrose Street.  

Julian Abele was the first African-American student to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in architecture in 1902. He became a celebrated Philadelphia architect and worked on landmark buildings such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Free Library of Philadelphia and Penn’s Irvine Auditorium for which he was the chief designer while working for Horace Trumbauer.

Mural artist Michael Webb’s tribute to Julian Abele weaves together historical figures, elements of blueprints and architectural images. The mural will be featured in the Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection, which is presented in partnership with the Mural Arts Program and the African American Museum. The collection includes 47 of Philadelphia’s most iconic African American-themed murals arranged along a trolley route through culturally diverse neighborhoods. 

Enthusiasts can see the murals online through an interactive tour narrated by ?uestlove, drummer for the Grammy-winning Philadelphia band, The Roots (http://iconic.muralarts.org), or by downloading a map and podcast for the driving tour.  

The collection also includes a mural adjacent to Penn’s campus at 39th and Chestnut Streets, Tuskegee Airmen: They Met the Challenge, completed in 2008 by artist Marcus Akinlana.

Also included are murals by Donald Gensler, lecturer of fine arts at Penn Design, such as Holding Grandmother’s Quilt at North 39th and Aspen Streets and Reaching for Your Star at 629 N. 37th Street by Donald Gensler and Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program and lecturer at PennDesign. Both murals, among many others, involved assistance from Penn students as part of the Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) class, The Big Picture: Mural Art in Philadelphia.

Mapping Courage: Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois and Engine #11 is also a part of the collection. To learn more about the mural and his work in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward, visit the Mapping Du Bois Philadelphia Negro Project at Penn’s School of Design at www.mappingdubois.org. A new documentary, Legacy of Courage, highlights the extensive research he conducted and tells the story of how a woman who once lived in the Seventh Ward came to be featured on the mural. The documentary can be found at: www.vimeo.com/22239485
The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network. Since then, it has become the largest public arts program in the United States. With over 3,500 murals, Philadelphia has earned the nickname, “The City of Murals.”

How Philly Moves, a mural by Penn alumnus Jacques-Jean (JJ) Tiziou, C’02, is slated for completion at the Philadelphia International Airport this July. The mural, featuring 27 dancers in various costumes and poses, will cover 50,000 feet and five stories, making it one of the largest murals in the country. Currently, How Philly Moves is a projection project at the Kimmel Center, from dusk to dawn through May 1 as part of the Mural Arts Program’s collaboration with the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.


Above: Julian Abele 1881-1950, a mural by artist Michael Webb celebrating the life and work of Penn alumnus and prominent architect, Julian Abele, will be dedicated at a ceremony on April 30. 



Above: Mapping Courage: Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois and Engine #11, a mural by artist Carl Willis Humphrey, which was completed in 2008 at 6th and South Streets. The scene is painted on the wall of Engine #11, a historical African-American firehouse. W.E.B. Du Bois is depicted observing a city scene with a census in his hand. Dr. Du Bois, the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard and a founder of the NAACP, was invited by the University of Pennsylvania department of sociology in 1896 to conduct a survey of blacks living in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward. The study, which was the first scientific study of race, served as the basis for his classic 1899 paper, The Philadelphia Negro.


Reaching for Your Star by Donald Gensler and Jane Golden working with Penn students, 2003.

Students in PennDesign’s Big Picture class collaborated with artist and lecturer Donald Gensler on Holding Grandmother’s Quilt, completed in 2004.


Almanac - April 26, 2011, Volume 57, No. 31