I took my first ever mural tour when I was in Philadelphia in March. A top-notch guide from the Mural Arts Program took our group on a ride on SEPTA’s Market/Frankford evaluated train line to show us the rooftop murals along the Market Street corridor that make up A Love Letter for You.
Our guide shared the fictitious back-story for the murals: man leaves his woman and baby, he returns after several years and wants her back, she’s not interested, he tries to win her back with a rooftop love letter along her daily commute.
The piece was created by Steve Powers who spent the 90s writing graffiti in Philadelphia and New York under the name ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach). It was really fun (and hard!) to spot the murals as the train sped along — and tricky to snap photos. Mural Arts Philadelphia has great pictures and more info.
My friend T tipped me off that the City of Philadelphia has undertaken a major mural-making initiative over the past 25 years — so I included time for mural hunting on a recent trip.
One of my favorite murals that I saw was Holding Grandmother’s Quilt which was painted by Donald Gensler and others in 2004. It spans two sides of a vacant lot near 39th and Aspen in West Philadelphia.
The woman pictured making the quilt on the west wall is Miss Jones, a well-known resident of the community. Her quilt seems to run under the vacant lot to the east wall where 3 children receive it — along with the wisdom of her generation.
This piece is one of more than 4,000 murals that have been created since 1984 through the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP). MAP was started as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, a City initiative to eradicate the extensive graffiti that was appearing in Philadelphia (and many other cities) at the time. Network staff reached out to graffiti writers to engage them in collaborating with their communities and redirecting their energies toward mural painting.
In addition to coordinating mural painting, MAP now offers art education and youth development programs, criminal and restorative justice work, and guided tours of the city’s murals. I downloaded maps, a podcast and even a cell phone app (!) for my mural hunting adventure. If you can’t make it to Philly, you can visit the interactive, multimedia Mural Explorer on the MAP website. Very impressive!