Photography:
Greg Benson


 


When the Christian Association relocated this winter,

it took the mural Sam Maitin created 15 years ago

along—and commissioned him to do a new one, too.

BY JANE BIBERMAN


 

As a Jew, I love the CA because it has always frowned on quotas and protected minorities,” says Sam Maitin FA’51. ‘‘I hung out there as a student and as a teacher because I was attracted to its ecumenicalism and its agenda of social activism. They have always been, and still are, in the forefront of the kind of community action that I think is important.”
   Maitin has done a lot more than just hang out at the Christian Association. The artist, himself a social activist who has contributed much of his time and work to causes like the anti-nuclear movement and protesting the Vietnam War, created a mural for its Chapel of Reconciliation that provided solace and inspiration to visitors for 15 years. This past winter, the mural was moved to the association’s new campus home. Maitin was the guest of honor at a dinner and ceremony marking the organization’s move, and he is now in the midst of developing another mural for the new location.
   The son of Russian Jewish immigrants who owned a grocery store in North Philadelphia, Maitin enrolled at Penn in 1945, when he was just 16. He “couldn’t believe” Penn accepted him, he says, adding that there were quotas for Jews at the time and “I was sure I wouldn’t make the final cut.” Maitin was also attending what is now the Philadelphia College of Art on a scholarship he won in high school; he took Penn courses at night, in art history as well as other subjects, and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 1951.
   Maitin worked as a teacher, printmaker, and graphic designer, eventually establishing himself as an international artist of the first rank. Today, at 72, his silkscreen prints, paintings, and sculptures can be found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and the Tate Gallery in London. But Maitin is best known for his public art; his signature murals and three-dimensional constructs—abstract, joyful, and colorful—that enhance communal spaces around the globe.
   On the Penn campus, Maitin’s polychrome dimensional mural, “Celebration,” enlivens the lobby of the Annenberg School for Communication, where he taught from 1966-1970. Over the years, he has contributed banners and prints to the Wharton School, the Dental School, and the School of Arts and Sciences. But perhaps he is most of proud of the sectional mural he made for the CA.
   In 1983, Rev. Ralph Moore, the association’s former executive director, commissioned Maitin to paint an 18- x 8-foot mural. “I went to study the space and the light,” says Maitin. “There was a Penn student standing there on one foot, meditating. I realized that this room, which Ralph called the Chapel of Reconciliation, was for everybody.” It took Maitin two years and 100 sketches to complete the acrylic mural that incorporates the words of the late Penn professor and writer Hiram Haydn: “As they flew low over me, there was no sound but the beating of their great wings, like blows of peace from God.”


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Left: Sam Maitin in front of the mural he finished in 1985; detail from a sketch for the new murals Maitin hopes to complete and install by this fall. “I am thinking of Genesis, of Creation, as a them,” he says.

 
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