For over a year in 2009 we have been trying to get a "Restored Spaces" project off the ground in Grays Ferry. Philadelphia.
Grays Ferry is a part of the city that regularly struggles with violence. Two teens were killed here months prior. The neighbors wanted an anti violence mural
At the suggestion of Homer Jackson, this project became a writing intensive collaboration between students, neighbors, and inmates. Centered around the bottletree.
A bottle tree is an artificial tree made of glass bottles, usually of colored glass. Primarily found in the Southern United States, bottles were placed on tree branches and were used to “capture spirits”.
Our concept incorporated this idea, but we filled those bottles with everyones writing.
The writing workshops were facilitated by Homer and Joseph P. Blake a former Inquirer editor and writer.
The topics ranged from the good and bad events that make up day to day life in the area, to the individual's idea of community
I embedded glass bottles in cement board leaves to contain the messages. There are over 30 cement leaves scattered throughout.
The figures are in the act of writing, stuffing the bottles with their messages and getting them tangled in the tree branches.
I hid select phrases and sentences throughout the mural, so they became a discoverable interactive element.
I hid much of the writing in the sky and clouds. It is faint enough to be discoverable, but not prominent. Between the leaves of the tree lie hidden images which symbolize some of the writing.
An image of the Schuylkill River from the South St bridge recalls a time in the neighborhoods history when the writer had to swim in the river, as opposed to a local pool due to the color of his skin.
It's important to represent the people who have lived in Grey's Ferry their entire life as well. Their writing, and excerpts of interviews are throughout the wall, some even appear as figures.
Painting workshops were held in St Gabriel's Hall (a detention center) and St Gabriel's School (A Roman Catholic parish in the neighborhood)
The students immersed themselves in the work, and painted several figures in a short amount of time.
There were stations with plastic bottles for more writing as well as decorating. These bottles came in to play at the dedication.
Sr. Deborah's art class poses next to all their hard work.
The students would stop by the mural every day to see when the figures would be adhered.
Progress of wall 1 with its thin set and primer base
The bulk of the bottle tree was installed and grouted in 4 days. It took 4 months to cut and assemble
These figures painted by the men in Graterford really added depth to the glass.
Towards the end the writing was carbon copied to the wall, then painted
In the end, the mural took a full year and a half, from idea to completion. My longest project.
On the day of the dedication, St Gabe's School was in attendance. Sr. Deborah (in the blue) went above and beyond helping to ensure this project was successful.
The bottle stations were a hit this time around.
The students wrote their thoughts and contributed to the overall project.
The bottles were hung on the fences between the two walls.
Two Grays Ferry women, committed to the project from the beginning, made the trip to Graterford Prison to meet the class. They share their stories with the kids, and talk about growing up in Gray's Ferry
Posing with councilwoman Babette Josephs