In 2008 I began working with 6 different Behavioral Health organizations in Philadelphia. We started a series of poetry workshops, with the goal of contributing ideas and words to a mural on the site of Elwyn Institute.
Our theme was "Overcoming the stigma of mental illness". The mural depicts a person making their way through the recovery process, and becoming a functioning member of a community that welcomes them.
The sunflower imagery symbolizes a person throughout stages of recovery, who then finds their path. The overall repetition of squares is a play on the design of the Elwyn building itself.
The design is meant to wrap around 2 walls of the site, encouraging curious observers on Market St to turn the corner and see the rest of the Mural.
I played with transparency to give a sense of the brick coming through the design. In many cases the brick was left as is. I try to work with the space, as opposed to covering it up.
Lines of poetry appear in blocks of the mural. Members from all 6 behavioral health organizations, led by Poet and Muralist Angela Crafton, wrote about their own personal journey in recovery.
Lines from certain poems and stories were picked that worked with, or enhanced the design and its meaning.
Clients appear in the design itself. For the mural to be effective, the figures had to be the members in recovery. This man posed for one of the three panels that depict assistance with communicating.
Staff appear as community members in the design. The woman with open arms is Wendy Williams-Blackson, my contact at Behavioral Health. Wendy was my hub for communicating between the different sites, and a valuable resource.
The female figure is a member of Horizon House named Natalie. She worked her way through Recovery, emerged clean, with a renewed place in her community, and is college bound. The man is her support, math tutor, and mentor.
Behavioral Health organized a consortium of doctors, lawyers, members, staff, and community, whose sole purpose was defining what it means to Recover in Philadelphia.
The definition took over a year to be agreed upon, and the result also appears in the mural.
Recovery Definition Detail
The glass sunflower at the bottom of the deign was cut on site and installed in August. The mural was completed a few weeks after.
This detail shows off the spacial relationships in all the glasswork. The yellow petal sits atop the brown petal, which sits atop the green leaf.
Deaf Services are represented in this panel
A final shot of the 25 foot high sunflower, which dwarfs passers by.
Market St Wall
My original design which shows the mural in an expanded view. I looked to artists like Paul Klee and his use of localized color in his paintings.
To start 22 separate workshops were scheduled with members of each site to help with the painting and mosaic. 4 of these workshops were massive paint days that saw as many as 200 volunteers.
The participating sites were Elwyn, P.A.T.H., Community Council, Comhar, The Wedge, and Horizon House.
These workshops yielded enough work for almost a quarter of the mural. The nature of the design is very fragmented, this made it easy to break the work into sections.
I wanted everyone to see a full image as each section was completed at the end of every workshop.
Every last panel was clearly labeled and accompanied by a print.
Everyone could understand what it was they were working towards through all the lines and numbers.
For those people who weren't comfortable painting detailed imagery or working with glass there was lettering. Lots and lots of lettering.
The painters had a very take charge attitude as well. Everyone worked each panel to completion. There were hardly any remaining blank spots on the cloth.
We got into the habit of laying out and piecing each panel together on the ground to provide a more complete picture of each section.
In between all the workshops we had the task of installing and touching up all this work.
Laying out the gridwork on top of a clear coat of primer
I had a dedicated group of assistants, volunteers, and interns helping to see this project through to the end.
I set the perimeters for the project, worked on the budget, and planned each specific workshop on top of all my regular main artist duties. It was a great learning experience and I hope that the 200+ volunteers are proud of their contributions.