Exploring Mural Making
Over the last few years I have been involved in the creation of a number of murals in my corner of the state of Pennsylvania. Each mural project has had unique aspects and through this blog I will try to explain the process of their creation.
In looking back at my history with murals I realized that my first experience came in 8th grade when I was asked by my American History teacher to create a mural on one of her bulletin boards. She gave me the latitude to select any historical event. I chose to depict the Boston Massacre inspired by the famous etching done by Paul Revere.
Many years later this choice became ironic in that I realized that while exploring my own heritage I discovered that one of my relatives, a Doctor Thomas Young, the husband of Molly Winegar, was blamed for fomenting the insurrection that led to the massacre.
I learned through this mural that images of scale can be very powerful communicators of history and events.
Throughout High School I collaborated with some very talented artist friends and created large scale murals for our junior and senior prom. The junior prom was a jungle theme achieved by creating a lush scene of tropical foliage and jungle animals ala the painter Henri Rousseau.
The theme of the senior prom was based on the Egyptian temple Abu Simbel. Both of these murals covered the collapsed wall of both sides of our gym's bleachers which were 80 feet in length and 10 feet high.
In 2008 I was hired as an Art Instructor at the state maximum security prison, SCI Fayette. One of my first projects was to work with three inmates to create an 11 foot by 22 foot mural for the kids' corner of the facility's visitors center. The inmate's design incorporated a number of learning experiences for the visiting children including numbers, the alphabet, shapes, colors, historical events and some of the kids' favorite animals and cartoon characters.
While at the prison I was asked to work on a historic mural for the town of Brownsville PA. My inmate artists were a bit intimidated to tackle something of this scale, a 20' x 40' image. I told them that we would break it down to doable steps. They dug into the project and in the end they were very proud of their effort and contribution to the community. Images of the "Cast Iron Bridge" mural will come later in the blog.
For the past couple of summers I was hired by the Douglass Education Center in Monessen PA to conduct a summer workshop on mural painting with students from the region. We have done two murals with this organization with images and info later in the blog.
"Steamboat Enterprise Mural"
This mural was painted by a group of high school students from the Monongahela River Valley. As an instructor at the Douglass Education Center in Monessen, PA, I worked with about 24 students to achieve this image.
Above is an image of the mural before its installation. We start the process with an image that we grid in sections and project the sections onto prepared cloth material. After the line art of the image is transferred the students begin to paint the various sections. A slide show of the students working at various stages is below.
The Steamboat Enterprise is significant in American history. Designed and built in Brownsville, PA in 1814 by Daniel French, the boat was the first steamboat designed adequately enough to combat the force of the flow of our rivers. The boat traveled from Brownsville to Pittsburgh and then to New Orleans and returned to Pittsburgh. Its ability to traverse the rivers up stream opened up the potential for establishing our extensive river commerce and grow our industrial river towns.
The Steamboat Enterprise also played a significant role in the winning of the Battle of New Orleans when it was loaded with munitions and returned to New Orleans to successfully fight the famous battle with the British.
Enterprise Mural Installation
Friend Dave Lesako and I installed the mural on the wall of a building in Brownsville PA adjacent to the wharf area on Water Street. The sections of the mural are first brushed with a special adhesive on the reverse side and the pieces are carefully aligned and rubbed down to the surface.
A slide show of the install is below.
"First Cast Iron Bridge Mural"
This mural on my blog was painted by a group of inmates at the maximum security prison, SCI Fayette. At the time I was an Arts Instructor at the facility and was approached by a group of individuals working with the Brownsville Area Redevelopment Corporation (BARC).
This project was to highlight the historical significance of the first cast iron bridge in America, which was built in Brownsville. The first photo above is of the completed mural installed on the side of the American Legion building in Brownsville, PA (Size 20ft. by 40ft.). The second image is of a painting done by a painter named Carl Rakeman depicting the bridge as it looked when it was built in 1839. My inmates used it as inspiration for the project. Below is a slide show of the installation process that you can view or pause to look at details.
A quote from one of my inmate artists:
"We were able to come together as a team, and work off of each other's
creativity. It is gratifying to be able to contribute something back to society that will
have a positive impact. I hope that it inspires others to contribute to their community".
2012 Mural "Monessen Blast Furnaces"
image taken from an old colorized postcard
"The Monessen Blast Furnace"
This mural was done in the summer of 2012 at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen. I worked with a couple dozen High School students from the Mon River area. The Mural depicts the first blast furnace built along the Mon River at the very beginning of 1900. It was owned and operated by the Pittsburgh Steel Company.
The slide show which follows shows the various steps that were taken to bring the mural to completion.
"Monessen Blast Furnace Mural"
The installation of the mural was done on the 3rd and 4th stories of the Monessen Historical Society's building on Donner Street in Monessen PA.
My good friends, Dave Lesako, Jami Rinehart, and Dachmon Ruge helped with the mounting of the mural. Each panel was brushed on its back with a thick coat of adhesive and then two of us would carry the cloth panel up two 32 foot ladders to position the panels. Once in place the panels are rubbed down with a cloth to ensure that it sticks to the wall. A slide show of the installation is below.