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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Postcard.
Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Postcard
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Syracuse, New York
by Samuel D. Gruber

[cross posted from My Central New York (May 30, 2016)]

For Memorial Day we look at Syracuse's Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Clinton Square, the city's largest and most prominent monuments to war veterans, and the grandest local expression of public art from the period of "The City Beautiful" and Beaux-Arts design. Memorial Day has its origins in Decoration Day and was celebrated to honor the dead of the Civil War. In Syracuse it took almost a half century before a large and fitting memorial was built as the backdrop for public ceremony. The monument was built to honor the 12,000 individuals from Onondaga County who fought in the Civil War, but it is now been rededicated in  memory of all the county's service men and women.

Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

 Clarence H. Blackall (1857-1942) was the architect, and the bronze sculptures were designed by Cyrus Dallin (1861-1944). The East group of figures is titled, "A Call to Arms" and the West is named, "An Incident at Gettysburg." Dallin was a leading sculptor of the period, known especially for his majestic figures of Native Americans on horseback, such as Appeal to the Great Spirit (1909), now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and and his statue of the Angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City.

Read full post here

New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama

Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama
by Samuel D. Gruber

The Memorial to Peace in Justice, A new project to commemorate the victims of decades of systematic American terrorism - the lynching of innocent African-Americans throughout the south (and through much of the rest of the country, too) is underway in Montgomery, Alabama. This is an important, timely and overdue commemorative and educational initiative. The MASS Design Group, which is designed the memorial, writes:
The Memorial to Peace and Justice will sit on six acres of land in Montgomery and become the nation's first national memorial to victims of lynching. The structure will contain the names of over 4000 lynching victims engraved on concrete columns representing each county in the United States where racial terror lynchings took place. Counties across the country will be invited to retrieve duplicate columns with the names of each county's lynching victims to be placed in every county. The project is planned to open in 2017.
Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
 Read about it here in the New York Times.
Last year, the group [the Equal Justice Initiative released a report documenting more than 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950. After that report, Mr. Stevenson launched a project to collect soil from unmarked lynching sites around the country. The soil will be placed in glass jars that will be on display at the museum.
I have not digested the aesthetics yet, but it clearly takes a lot form conceptual and interactive Holocaust memorials of the 1980s and 1990s, especially some of those in Germany. Americans tend to be literalists, so how will this resonate in Alabama? The precedent of the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial is encouraging, but more often we are given the stirring neo-classicism or gigantism of DC (WWII & MLK monuments) - and don't get me wrong, sometimes literalness works, as with the popular Jerry Rescue Monument in Syracuse, commemorating a local uprising against the Fugitive Slave Act ....but that is essentially an upbeat, affirmative and optimistic story. The new Montgomery monument builds on the momentum created by the installation of historical signage in Montgomery about the history of the slave trade. 

Syracuse, NY. Jerry Rescue Monument with Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument behind. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
 As a paper I once gave asked "How do we remember places [events] we'd rather forget?" for America,this new work may be a big step forward. Now, if only a fraction of people would be interested, aware and outraged over the history of lynching as are out looking for Pokemans we'd really be making progress!

The decades-long history of lynching is a history - and America's legacy - of tolerated terrorism against thousands of innocent African-Americans - not just in the south, but across much of the country. Because as a white society we have never truly confronted this legacy - and in fact have exhibited a blase complacency - the culture of violence against blacks has not gone away, it has merely shifted into a more (but equally lethal) structured aspect of our criminal justice system. If lynching was called "terrorism" - would there be a different response?

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Charleston, South Carolina: Belated Remembrance of an African-American Cemetery

Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Charleston, South Carolina: Belated Remembrance of an African-American Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber 

I recently wrote about an 18th-century  Jewish cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the United States and one that is still cared for today and is the focus of a continuing maintenance and restoration effort. 

Another old cemetery in Charleston did not fare so well.  

Today, the African-American cemetery founded by the Brown Fellowship Society in 1790 is remembered only by a monument erected in 2008 by the College of Charleston at Rivers Green, an open area adjacent to the College's Addlestone Library, which apparently occupies at least part of the cemetery site. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston bought the cemetery site, which was adjacent to the Bishop England High School, in 1956 and later sold the land to the College of Charleston in 2001. Soon after, when excavation began for the new library, human remains and carved gravestones were uncovered.
 Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

According to Find a Grave,
although there are reports of promises made to move both headstones and human remains from Pitt Street to Cunnington Avenue [the Society's later cemetery] , only scant handful of headstones was moved. There is no evidence that any remains were removed, nor is the fate known of the rest of the many headstones and monuments, some of which were ornately and elaborately carved."
Today part of the site is a parking lot at 54 Pitt Street, whiles the area in front of the monument is a landscaped and paved open space for the College.

The College subsequently erected a monument commemorating the use of these grounds as a cemetery by the Brown Fellowship Society and other groups.  The two stone slabs are engraved with some of the the history of the site. The monument pays tribute to the Brown Fellowship Society and those buried in the cemetery but it offers no history of the shameful treatment of the site nor of the cemetery boundaries and how they related to the present topography. Still, the erection of the monument has helped revive interest in the Brown Fellowship society and other cultural and social aspects of Free Black Society in Charleston - one of the country's leading slave centers. The history of the cemeteries also is a poignant reminder of the history of American segregation - in death as in life - and by Christian churches until very recent times.

Building on cemeteries is not unusual in the United States. Most often human remains are removed beforehand - but not always. Historically African-American cemeteries have had fewer protections than cemeteries for dead white people, and they have received less attention and care when threatened.  This has changed in recent years - in large part due to the attention given to the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan excavated in the 1990s, but the case in Charleston shows that that kind of (government-funded) attention is the exception, not the rule. 


New York, NY. Bronze marker denoting location of African Burial Ground. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2005.

According to historian Dr. Rita Reynolds, of Wagner College, "The Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground was established in 1790 by a group of wealthy free men of color in Charleston, S.C. In antebellum Charleston, cemeteries were racially segregated. Free blacks who did not wish to be buried with slaves established their own burial grounds to allow them a degree of dignity in death."



The Society consisted of free men of color in a time when most of the African-American population in Charleston was enslaved. It was the oldest and most prestigious free black organization that aimed to promote “charity and benevolence” among its members and also the community. These men joined together to form a fraternal organization and also a credit union for members. When a member of the Society passed away, the men supported the widow and family by conducting the burial in the cemetery on this site. The Humane Brotherhood was founded in 1843 and had many of the same functions. It was also composed of free black men who were successful working members of Charleston society.

The Brotherhood buried members in this location, and it is possible the cemetery was also used by two local churches, Plymouth Congregational and Bethel Methodist. The monument that stands today acknowledges the history, altruism and community involvement of the organizations who buried their members on this plot of land. The memorial honors those members who were buried, but also the organizations that contributed to the rich history of Charleston’s African-American community.
The Brotherhood buried members in this location, and it is possible the cemetery was also used by two local churches, Plymouth Congregational and Bethel Methodist. The monument that stands today acknowledges the history, altruism and community involvement of the organizations who buried their members on this plot of land. The memorial honors those members who were buried, but also the organizations that contributed to the rich history of Charleston’s African-American community.

Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Records of the Fellowship Society are housed at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture of the College Library. Charleston may have been unique in the large number of African-American burial societies that existed in the past (and still survive). Curiously to me, the organization and function of these societies is very similar to Jewish burials societies - both groups also provided care to the sick and poor and helped widows and orphans as well as carried out the procedures for burial of the dead. According to the Avery Research Center, as reported by Adam Parker in the Post and Courier in 2010, nine African-American burial societies in Charleston have been identified and eight survive - though some just barely.


Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Syracuse's Billings Park by Samuel D. Gruber

Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
 
CNY Public Art: The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Syracuse's Billings Park 
(cross posted from My Central New York)
by Samuel D. Gruber  

Among its many public monuments and art, Syracuse boasts a substantial collection of art by women sculptors.  These include the Hamilton White Memorial at Fayette Park and the Kirkpatrick Monument (LeMoyne Fountain) by Gail Sherman Corbett, the Elemental Man by Malvina Hoffman and the bronze Saltine Warrior statue by Luise Kaish at Syracuse University, and the high relief sculpture of the Jerry Rescue Monument at Clinton Square by Sharon BuMann.  There is also an abstract work by Penny Kaplan outside the Everson Museum, and women ceramicists have created murals in the Westcott area.

Perhaps the most famous work by a woman sculptor in Syracuse,The Hiker, located at the south side of Billings Park, goes little mentioned. I venture that today most people who even know the name of the sculptor are not even aware that T. A. Kitson, was a woman. Yet Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson (1871-1932), was a leading artist of her time, and possibly the foremost American woman sculptor of her generation. She made many public monuments throughout the country and at least fifty casts of The Hiker, her best known work, are installed as memorials across the country. 

In 1895, Ruggles Kitson was the first woman to be admitted to the National Sculpture Society. In 1888, at age 17, she won honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais (the youngest woman ever to receive the honor). She was celebrated when she returned to the United States and as a (minor) celebrity asked to comment on everything from art to fashions.  When the Kitsons separated in 1909 (her husband had been her teacher and partner), Alice moved to Farmington, where she maintained a studio until her 1932 death in Boston, Massachusetts.



Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

Syracuse, NY. The Hiker dedication plaque at Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
  
The Syracuse Hiker at the south end of Syracuse's Billings Park in front of the former Central High School. It represents a Spanish American War soldier and commemorates those who died in that war, the Philippine-American War and the Boxer Rebellion. The statue reminds us of time, much like today, when American forces seemed to be engaged in an unending series of conflicts far from home. Though these were the first wars of American empire, The Hiker represents free-spirited and even carefree individualism rather than the increasingly professionalized militarism of the era. A handsome young soldier - ready for a jungle trek - steps confidently forward.  Ruggles Kitson was appreciated as a woman sculptor who could make manly men.

The first version was installed at the university of Minnesota in 1906.  The bronze cast in Syracuse was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1924.  In stanllatuion postdates the inauguration at the north end of the park of a stone monument dedicated July 15, 1920, known as the Rock of the Marne Monument, engraved with names of some of the local dead of World War I, atop of which stands the figure of an infantryman by sculptor Ronald Hinden Perry. .

The Syracuse Hiker was one of the first placements of the iconic statue, which proliferated around the country after 1921 when the Gorham Manufacturing Company, located in Providence, Rhode Island, bought the rights to the statue, and over the next 44 years cast at least 50 Hiker statues.

The earliest installations of The Hiker were mostly in the northeastern United States, often complementing Civil War Memorials.  Post-World War II statues were installed mostly in the South and West.  The Syracuse statue was recently restored and cleaned. Interestingly, because of the wide distribution of the statues, they have been used to study air pollution over the last century since their original state is known, and in case so is the date of their installation.  Thus conservators and meteorologists can compare deterioration and analysis the effect of acid rain and other pollutants in specific places and over measurable time.


 Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

 
Providence, RI. The Hiker. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2005


Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011 
 
 Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
 
Billings Park is a small open space at South Salina, South Warren and East Adams Streets; about a third of acre in size. It was once a more prominent space in the city, when central High School was open and when the downtown was more knit to the south of the city along South Salina Street. Today, there is little residential use of the area and there are more parking lots and garages than active commercials centers. The space was formerly Warren Park, named like Warren Street in honor of American Revolutionary War General Joseph Warren. Roger Billings had his carriage factory on the north side of Adams Street across from the park from 1841 to 1859;(where the recently constructed bus terminal is now) and he helped improve the park  with help from fellow citizens Richard W. Jones, George Ostrander and George Herman. The provided new landscaping, walkways and a central fountain, and the park was dedicated by Mayor William Stewart, August 24, 1867. 

For more on Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson see:
 

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, 1990. American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1990), pp 102-105.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Princeton Battle Monument by Frederick MacMonnies and Thomas Hastings (1908-1922)


Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Detail of George Washington. Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

The Princeton Battle Monument by Frederick MacMonnies and Thomas Hastings (1908-1922)
by Samuel D. Gruber


This week in 1776-1777 was a momentous one for the American Revolution, as George Washington and his demoralized troops realized three victories between Christmas and January 3rd. After crossing the Delaware and winning the first Battle of Trenton followed up with a further successful defense in the Second Battle of Trenton and then a surprise attack to win the Battle of Princeton (not to be confused with my struggles there with undergraduate Latin and German).  Years later the one of my favorite American monuments was created in Princeton, New Jersey to commemorate that latter victory.

Over a year ago I wrote about the George Washington Statue in Paris. But a very different type of Washington, and one of my favorite images of him as general, is on the Princeton Battle Monument, a work described by my former professor Robert Judson Clark as "one of the most ambitious, but least known, examples of Beaux-Arts sculpture in the United States."  

Washington is shown in high relief as the apex of of structure of his soldiers.  He is the weary soldier, the reluctant hero, a man lead by the allegorical figure of Liberty, who seems quietly sure of this destiny. The monument designed by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937) and architect Thomas Hastings commemorates the victory of Washington and his troops at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777 which together with the Battle of Trenton is seen as a turning point in the Revolutionary War, since it showed that Americans could defeat British and mercenary troops, and it forced the British to leave southern New Jersey. The high relief sculpture also shows the death of General Hugh Mercer. 

MacMonnies, who was the third sculptor approached for the project (after Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French) was given few guidelines, but there was popular sentiment was for a traditional equestrian statue of Washington similar to that in Paris by Daniel Chester French inaugurated in 1900.  The well known equestrian statue of Washington in the city of that name, executed by  Clark Mills, and dedicated in 1860 also purportedly represents Washington at the Battle of Princeton.

Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

the siting of the monument was debated for a long time. The actual site of the battlefield was considered too remote.  Different locations in the center of Princeton were considered before the site on Nassau Street near Stockton Street was chosen. 

The monument as original intended to be of bronze, but instead it was constructed of and sculpted (in situ) in limestone beginning in 1919.  MacMonnies style is very fluid, but years of exposure to the elements has also worn the stone. Macmonnies created a full size clay model which was on site while the stone was carved mostly by Piccirilli Brothers of Brooklyn under MacMonnies supervision. A reflecting pool was also planned for the site but never executed because of the cost.  Though the main composition is carved in extremely high relief, so much so that the stone seems to have melted away behind the figures.  This type of sculpture finds its origins in the exuberant reliefs on the Arc des Triumph in Paris but ultimately has its source in ancient Hellenistic and Roman sculpture.  This work is one of the last great expressions of the Beaux-Arts style in public art America.

Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

 Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

 Already, in the years following World War I a flatter, crisper and more geometric style of design and relief carving was finding acceptance, and this can be seen on many subsequent World War I memorials and eventually in commercial architectural decoration of the 1920s.  In Princeton, the base of the work that supports the figural relief is carved in very low relief that suggests this new style. 

 Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008


An inscription on the rear of the monument expresses in words the sentiment of the sculpture:

"Here memory lingers to recall the guiding mind whose daring plan outflanked the foe and turned dismay to hope when Washington with swift resolve marched through the night to fight at dawn and venture all in one victorious battle for our freedom."


Princeton, New Jersey. Battle of Princeton Monument. Frederick MacMonnies, sculptor (1908-1922). Photo Samuel D. Gruber 2008

See: 

Clark, Robert Judson, Frederick MacMonnies and the Princeton Battle Monument (Exhibition, spring of 1977 at The Art Museum, Princeton Univ.) Volumes 42-43 (1984) of Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University.

Bzdak, Meredith Arms, Public Sculpture in New Jersey (Rutgers University Press, 1999), pp. 84-85.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Long View of Santa Monica's Ocean Park Boulevard Murals

 
Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

The Long View of Santa Monica's Ocean Park Boulevard Murals
by Samuel D. Gruber

When art historians and critics think of Santa Monica's Ocean Park, mostly likely it will be painter Richard Diebenkorn's (1922-1993) Ocean Park Series of brightly colored abstract paintings that will come to mind.   There is another form of Ocean Park art, too: murals.  

Two of the oldest, best-known and longest (in size) in the Santa Monica neighborhood cover the lengthy concrete support and retaining walls that line the sides of the Ocean Park Boulevard underpass from 2nd Street to 4th Street, running perpendicular from the beach and Main Street. When I visit Santa Monica, I pass these murals a lot - on foot and on bike.  If there were not murals, these concrete walls would be boring, even oppressive.  Instead, what could be a tunnel is instead a outdoor gallery.  

These murals are now thirty years old, making them almost ancient in the world of urban murals.  Their location along a road cut and underpass have protected the somewhat form the weather, but they are showing their age. For those that do not know them, here is a quick view.  for those that do know them, of for whom they have blended into the familiar cityscape, here is a re-introduction.

In the spring of 1982 Daniel Alonzo began his most recognized work, "Whale of a Mural", located on 4th Street and Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica. In this mural we are submerged not just below the overpass, but into the water.  The experience recalls being in an aquarium, but instead of small fish we see families of behemoth whales.

 
Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 
Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Whale of a Mural by Daniel Alonzo (1983). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

In 1985, 0n the opposite side of Ocean Park Boulevard, David S. Gordon painted Unbridled, a long view of escaping  Santa Monica Pier carousel horses frolicking on the beach.  This theme links the mural to local history and landscape, and provides a mix of theses - the nature of sea, beach and local cliffs, with a whiff of whimsy.  Again, the softness and variety of the natural world is used to dress the unnatural hardness and monotony of the long concrete retaining wall.  On the side, the walker, biker, driver gets to race the horses - though most are running against traffic!

Both artists of these 1980s murals painted continuous and unified works that reveal themselves sequentially as one passes them by.  They can be viewed lengthwise from any point, and any direction for the sweep of the image, or each segment can be viewed head on.  Each scene is part of the whole, but is also perfectly self-sustaining. 

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 
Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Santa Monica, CA. Ocean Park Boulevard. Unbridled by David S. Gordon (1985). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

There are scores of murals throughout the Los Angeles area.  The quality ranges widely, but even the bad ones when stumbled upon offer some relief to the hardscape of the city, and sometimes the provide real pleasure.  They are best found by accident, but you can locate many of the murals through this website of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. 

Have you looked for all the murals in your community?

For more on public murals see my posts about Syracuse's Westcott Neighborhood, and the murals of Seattle's Wallingford Neighborhood.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Murals of Wallingford (Seattle)


 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th & Bagley.  Sports mural at the Iron Bull. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  Bartell Drugs Mural 45th Street and Burke Ave. N.. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street and Burke Ave. N.  Mural by artist Chris Burnside.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street and Burke Ave. N. Mural by artist Chris Burnside.. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

The Murals of Wallingford (Seattle)
by Samuel D. Gruber

Since I just posted about the murals in my own Syracuse neighborhood, I thought I show what some other places are painting in their neighborhoods, too.  There are many definitions of neighborhood, but certainly one way of branding a neighborhood is to give a distinctive visual feel - and murals are a popular and relatively inexpensive way to do that.    Murals vary in quality of execution and subject matter, but even bad murals are often embraced by the local community.  What are the alternatives?  Bleak walls or even better murals.  Or, a high visually engaging urban architecture that is functional and affordable, but also visually stimulating - and fun.  In some times and places (Renaissance Italy murals were painted to enhance and expand the architecture through tromp l'oeil and other fictive devices, a technique revived in New York and other American cities by muralist Richard Haas and disciples beginning in the 1970s.  Most contemporary urban muralists seem to lack the desire or skill to match. preferring a much different aesthetic more akin to spontaneity of certain folk traditions or the slickness of advertising.


Rome, Italy. Pal. Milesi Photo: http://roma.andreapollett.com/S5/rione05.htm.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Seattle and was fortunate to stay in the Wallingford neighborhood, just a half block off 45th Street. The half mile straight stretch is the heart of the district and is lined with dozens of restaurants, a library, movie theaters and a mix of useful and traditional stores (lamps, etc.) and a trendy new places. 

On either side are residential blocks heavy with early 20th-century Craftsman-style bungalows.  There are many murals all over Seattle, but murals are an especially distinctive part of the 45th Street district.  Some are community oriented; some advertise the businesses whose walls they adorn.  This is not an entirely new practice.  Traces of at least one old painted ad - for Henry Nelson Real Estate - is still visible.  No new mural has been painted on that wall to compete.


Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural of an earlier age.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014



Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural of an earlier age.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

  Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  4515 Meridian Avenue North. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

  Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  Off 45th Street mural. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

  Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

  Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural for Kabul Restaurant.. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Seattle, WA. (Wallingford).  45th Street mural. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014