Sample Mural Marvels on a Family Walk
by Emily Lambert
Your family can sample one of Americas great art marvels on a simple stroll.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, with its 2,500 murals, has become the most extensive urban art program in the U.S.
Marvel you will. Its not only because of the murals sheer size the typical mural decorates a Philadelphia row house three stories high. Its not just because they magically transform bleak slabs of concrete into magnificent works of art. Youll also marvel because of the stories the murals have to tell.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) began in 1984 as an anti-graffiti effort. Today, the program involves 300 artists each year and its art education programs serve more than 1,000 young people annually.
MAP offers its own tours and charts mural locations on its website. But theres something special about discovering the murals up close and on your own. To introduce them to your family, weve cooked up a compact walking (or driving) tour of eight Center City murals.
On it, you and your children can watch pets frolic, guess who some famous Franks are and learn the meaning of the word muse. Simply add a sunny day and walking shoes.
1. Progress for Women
1307 Locust St.
Artists: Larissa Preston, Cesar Viveros
This mural adorns the wall of the New Century Guild, which advocates for womens rights and the advancement of women in the workplace.
Women at work are pictured throughout the mural, including Guild founder Eliza Turner, the (top) and Eleanor Roosevelt with a child sitting in her lap (upper left).
Every day people in the mural represent professions or pathways in life that result from ideals promoted by the New Century Guild, notes MAP tour coordinator Marisa Starr.
The masks some women are holding represent the questions women face from society, such as What is lady-like? What do good mothers and wives do? and What do women really want? says Amy R. Johnston, MAP community outreach liaison.
2. Philadelphia Muses
13th & Locust St., NE corner
Artist: Meg Saligman
Performers, writers and artists join in a contemporary interpretation of the classical muses in this giant mural.
In the center, an arts generator resembling a giant gumball machine spins out spheres, known as the perfect form. Muses abound, including a bearded man with a flute symbolizing sound, a woman in a brown robe representing the visual arts and a man in a contorted pose symbolizing invention. Each figure holds a sphere.
Philadelphia Muses was made in the artists studio with large squares of a non-woven medium, called parachute cloth, which were later adhered to the wall using an acrylic gel.
3. Famous Franks
13th & Pine Sts., NE corner
Artist: David McShane
Pictured on the outside wall of the infamous bar Dirty Franks are, quite simply, lots of Franks. This is an especially fun one for the kids because they can guess who the Franks are, says Brian Campbell, MAP special assistant to the director. And because parents have all the answers, heres a list for you to keep handy.
Franks are (from left to right): Benjamin Franklin, Frankie Avalon, the floral architecture design from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts by Frank Furness, Aretha Franklin, a frankfurter, Barney Frank, Frankensteins monster, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra, actor Frank Morgan in a scene from Wizard of Oz (written by L. Frank Baum), St. Francis of Assisi (for whom the artist used his twin brother, Frank, as a model), puppeteer Frank Oz, Frank Perdue, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Burns from M*A*S*H* and Tug McGraw (whose real name is Frank).
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Look for numerous dogs, cats, a chameleon, an iguana, a goldfish, a rabbit, a turtle and two lovebirds.
This mural is a tribute to pets and the wonderful work that the Morris Animal Refuge does, says Johnston. Funds for the project were raised by a lottery. The winning ticket holders pets were featured in the mural.
6. Theatre of Life
Broad & Lombard Sts., SE corner
Artist: Meg Saligman
More than 10,000 pieces of glass, one ton of concrete, 5,000 marbles and 400 gallons of paint come together in this multi-media production, says Johnston.
Theatre of Life looks at forces that control us. Each figure represents a different force, such as the man struggling with a shiny rope that pulls a clock, to show the influence time has in our lives
Two large hands with a marionette stick dangle over the figures. They symbolize things that control our lives that we may not realize, says Johnston.
7. Irish Landscape (Killarney)
1535 Lombard St.
Artist: Tish Ingersoll
Ingersoll honored the wall owners request for an Irish theme and created a lush, inviting landscape. Its as if you could walk over the crumbling stone wall at the bottom and journey back into the hills for eternity.
Lining the right side are various Irish symbols, such as Celtic knots, circles and an Irish flag at the top. When Ingersoll painted the mural, her studio work focused on looking down at ponds. This influence was incorporated into the painting along with images she found in books on Ireland.
8. Fantasy Landscape
Visible from the east side of 17th St. between Pine & Waverly Sts.
Artist: Brian Senft
The wall owner wanted a mural that would show the (Rittenhouse Square) neighborhoods Philadelphia pride, says Johnston. The owner also requested simplicity and a landscape with no figures or messages.
Its a peaceful image that would rid the neighborhood of the blank wall that was an eyesore, says Johnston. The fantasy includes majestic snow-capped mountains providing a magical backdrop for the Schuylkill River.
People love and need beauty in their lives, so art plays a very important role in telling our stories, in mirroring the times, in talking about the world and connecting us all to everything that makes us human, says MAPs director, Jane Golden. The world would be a very different place without it.
Emily Lambert is a local freelance writer.