Just for Fun

Sample Mural Marvels on a Family Walk

by Emily Lambert


Your family can sample one of America’s 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. It’s not only because of the murals’ sheer size — the typical mural decorates a Philadelphia row house three stories high. It’s not just because they magically transform bleak slabs of concrete into magnificent works of art. You’ll 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 there’s something special about discovering the murals up close and on your own. To introduce them to your family, we’ve 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 women’s 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 artist’s 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 Frank’s 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, here’s 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, Frankenstein’s 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).

For More Info

Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell (Temple University Press, $34.50), www.temple.edu/ tempress/titles/1601_reg.html

Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, 729 Mount Vernon St., Phila. 215-685-0750, www.muralarts.org
e-mail: info@muralarts.org

4. Spring
13th & Pine Sts., NW corner
Artist: David Guinn
Spring connects the trees on either side of the mural, on Pine Street, and in the backyards of adjacent house, to create the effect of a park-like setting in front of the mural wall, rather than the parking lot that is really there.
The artist, David Guinn, was “inspired by the idea of making soft forms out of discreet, hard-edged blocks of color. His hope for the squares was that they would allow the mural to be seen simultaneously as a flat abstraction of color and as having depth and space,” says Johnston.

5. Gimme Shelter: A Tribute to Pets
1242 Lombard St.
Artist: David Guinn
Approximately 50 animals frolic in this idyllic mural that decorates the wall of the Morris Animal Refuge. Each has a story. For example, at the far right there’s Franklin, a dachshund who couldn’t walk at the time of adoption. Today, he gets around just fine.

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. It’s 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) neighborhood’s Philadelphia pride,” says Johnston. The owner also requested simplicity and a landscape with no figures or messages.

It’s “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 MAP’s director, Jane Golden. “The world would be a very different place without it.”

Emily Lambert is a local freelance writer.