Tag Archive: Graterford Prison

Family Interrupted Exhibit at the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent

Family Interrupted is coming to the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent! The Family Interrupted/Community Connected Exhibition will be held in the Community Voices Gallery in the Museum, which is located at 15 South 7th Street. The exhibit will run from July 11, 2012 – December 31, 2012.

The exhibit features a massive 14′ wide print on the finished mural; a print so large, you can scan the mural’s many QR codes using a smartphone. You can hear audio and interact with the project’s website on the SPOT! Those without a smartphone can still get involved by leaving a message in two of our featured mailboxes, which will get posted to the site. Visit the museum to see these and other artifacts from the year and a half long initiative.

This exhibit is also features a video showing the history of the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, and its Restorative Justice Program, of which Family Interrupted is its newest project.

Come out for the opening reception August 9th 5:30pm

Photo by Michael Reali


We wrapped up installation on the 23rd of May. Just over a month and a half’s time. Its hard to believe its all over, but the project site lives on at http://www.familyinterruptedproject.com. There will be a couple major updates and additions to the site right off the bat, along with any major project news, and the announcement of the dedication set for early fall. We have a number of mailboxes still in place, and we are relying on the good graces of the host sites to keep them for as long as they are willing. The largest QR code on the mural leads you to the “Share your Story” part of the site. Im excited to see the contributions it yields.

A colossal amount of thanks to my assistants Briana Dawkins, Salaam Smith, Diana Gonzalez, Katie Lillard, Tjai, Abdullah, Koran Morris, Anthony Peel, Latasha Billington, and the men of my mural class at SCI Graterford. Additionally, a huge thank you to all of the volunteers, and families, that reached out, sharing their stories, pictures, writing, and time. Many people opened their homes to me, brought their children to our peer groups, and welcomed additional interviews and meetings. Im forever humbled by their strength and willingness to be heard.

Wall Credits

Click the Thumbs for a better view. All photos by Michael Reali

Glass Timelapse

Shot over 2 months, my assistants and I assemble the stained glass windows for my “Family Interrupted” project. For more info visit familyinterruptedproject.com ,ericokdeh.com,muralarts.org

Family Interrupted Installation

Its been a busy spring. Ive been hard at work installing and finishing Family Interrupted, while working on a large private commission, and co-designing my summer project for Mural Arts titled “How We Fish” alongside Social Impact Studios . Its been difficult to keep up with my regular updates, so here is a slideshow of images ranging from the wrap-up in the studio, to the installation of the cloth panels.

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Family Interrupted Progress (Glass)

Here are some progress shots of the glass work that is going on in my studio, as well as a few shots of the mural in progress both in the studio and at workshops.

Family Interrupted Project

For the past year, I have been working in conjunction with my mural class at Graterford Prison, various ex-offender organizations on the streets and families of the incarcerated throughout the city. The theme of our collaborations, and my subsequent mural explores the impact of incarceration on Philadelphia families. Family Interrupted is my growing multidisciplinary project, that contains the input, stories, and hard work of over 100 contributors as of this date.

Mural Arts and I have partnered with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and their facilitator Anne Shwartzmann, running workshops with groups of people and organizations (such as M.I.M.I.C. based in North Philadelphia) across the city, as well as in the Prison Society,  Graterford, and St Gabriel’s Hall.

These participants are impacted by incarceration at various levels. For example, The Graterford Class and their families are looking at 20 plus years of separation, one man in my class will be behind bars for his 40th year this year. These men have seen the face of their entire family change in that time, and yet there are dedicated family members that frequently visit and write out of loyalty, and responsibility. In St Gabriel’s Hall, youth can qualify for weekend furloughs to see their families, and then go back to jail during the week.

Since the mid 90’s only 5 men have ever received commutations on their life sentences,  we have worked with 3 of these men for this project as well as men who have served their time and have been released.  They have shared their experiences about the reintegration process within their communities and their own families; most memorably to an audience of the teens and young adults of Mural Arts’ Youth Violence Reduction Program. These forums were not the only way in which people can become involved in the project.

The Guild program under Janice Smith has constructed 12 mailboxes, painted by myself and the Graterford program. These boxes are placed in various Prison visit waiting rooms, the Prison Society, Main branch of the Public Library, City Hall, The Gallery at Market East and in the neighborhood of the mural. Each box comes with a questionnaire that invites the participant to share their experiences in having a loved one or family member incarcerated. We are aiming to hear directly from the families while they are waiting for their visitation, a time when they may just want to vent, and be heard. We also look to hear from a broader audience that may or may not be affected by this at all. Each box advertises the project, provides pamphlets with resources, points to the project website, and provides the following statistics as food for thought…

Did you know?

  • One in every 28 adults were in prison, jail, or in probation or parole in PA in 2009 (Pew Report, 2009)
  • There are more than 1.7 million children in the United Stated with an incarcerated parent including one in 15 African American children, one in 42 Hispanic children and one in 111 caucasian children. (The Sentencing Project 2009)
  • Over half of incarcerated fathers reported that they were the primary source of financial support for their children prior to their incarceration. (Glaze and Maruschak Incarceration and the Family: A review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families, 2008)

The third way people can participate, even long after the mural is finished, is through the website I created familyinterruptedproject.com. The site was devised as a companion piece that runs concurrently through the life of the mural project and beyond. It acts as a way to provide people with a forum, while at the same time give an outside observer insight into their experiences. The site also provides resources to the families, as well as audio and video from our workshops and updates and press about the project. The site will live on long after the project ends, and my goal is to have the conversation continue. I’ve always searched for a way to include the outside observer during my seven years working in Graterford. I’ve always wished that there could be a way that more people could hear the results of our workshops, read some of the writing, be moved by people’s stories in the same way we are moved that night.  I feel that by recording our sessions and posting the audio to our user generated site, we’ve made a big step in the right direction.

My design took its inspiration from all of the families and people who opened themselves up, opened their homes up to me, brought their children, and shared their stories. The mural will be painted on the corner of Germantown Ave and Dauphin. The “w” shaped wall lends itself nicely to the narrative of the design. The “incarcerated” right side of the wall is tucked slightly away from view at first glance, the full story truly opens up to you once you get closer. It contains the faces and stories of ex-offenders and those still behind bars. Its about how their incarceration affected and forever warped their families, and the great sense of loss that takes place when loved ones pass on. The “family” face of the site shows the words, images, and thoughts from the men, women, and children left behind to carry on. Newly christened breadwinners raising a family on their own and maintaining relationships across great distances to keep the family together. Both sides look and reach toward each other over the center of the design that depicts visiting room life, and its fragmented moments of family interaction. These scenes are interspersed among vignettes of the media, government, and general public opinion which can serve to further complicate that limited interaction.

The church windows (which mimic the church building next to the wall) and the silhouetted figures within each portrait are currently being cut from Stained glass and mirror in my studio.

The design contains a large amount of scannable codes that anyone with a smart phone can scan, using their phone’s camera to have an enhanced experience of the mural. These codes are text based and directly linked to the familyinterruptedproject.com and its content. A passer by can scan a code within the mural and be taken to a number of audio clips from our workshops with the Prison Society. You can hear these stories straight from the person. A number of codes take you to pages of the site. Most notably, you can even be taken to the “Share Your Story” page of the site and contribute on the spot! I feel that the timing is right and there is a real ability to interact with the mural, listen and  learn, and then respond.

click the thumbs to expand

a temporary mural gets an extended stay….

…while a permanent mural’s life gets cut short.
click to view thumbs

Great news this month, my temporary project “Changing Seasons, Lasting Symbols” located in the courtyard of City Hall, was set to come down after a full year, but it looks like the mural will live on into 2012. Kien Nguyen and I had planned to salvage as much of the 3200 square foot project as possible, while the rest would be scrapped or reused for future construction sites. But the good people of Urban Outfitters (who we have collaborated with in 2009) have stepped in and saved the day. Within the next week or so, our mural will be disassembled and moved down Broad Street to the Navy Yard and serve as a another construction blockade well into Spring/Summer 2012. A huge thank you to Lauren and everyone at Urban Outfitters for taking an interest in the work. I will post pics as this develops.

The bad news comes in the form of vacant lot development in Logan, right in front of my “Restoration” mural. (a.k.a. the one that took a year and a half with the 17ft high relief triangle covered in stained glass) I’m really saddened to hear this news, a lot of people had their hands in making this project possible, both behind the scenes and in workshops and classrooms. We even partnered with the school across the street, doing a mini mural with the 3rd grade while giving presentations of our mural, explaining the images and symbols, and how they relate to Logan. It kills me to think that it only lived for 3 years, but thats how it goes. Restoration is just one in a growing list of murals I’ve seen get whitewashed, torn down, or built in front of this year.

Its a good thing I documented the hell out of it… and made this interactive page.
Restoration: A Closer Look

The Grays Ferry Bottle Tree Project

I have been designing and working for the past year and half, on a project in Grays Ferry, South Philadelphia. The concept of the project was about reclaiming a space, in this case it was two corners on Marston and Etting Streets that intersect with Dickinson.

The project took a while to get off of the ground, it was difficult at first to get any community interest, our meetings were poorly attended. For the better part of 6 months we were spinning our wheels, and trying to make inroads. Enter Homer Jackson, a PEW fellow, multimedia community artist, activist, fellow Tyler Alumni, and Philadelphia resident, who introduced the concept of a bottle tree mural.

Photo by Michael Reali

A bottle tree according to Wikipedia:
is an artificial tree made of glass bottles, usually of colored glass. Associated with Hoodoo and primarily found in the Southern United States. Bottle trees have been featured as accessories in most of the prestigious flower show garden displays all over the world.

The bottles were placed on tree branches and were used to “capture evil spirits”. Our concept incorporated this idea, but we filled those bottles with writing from local students (from St Gabriel’s School), kids in placement (St Gabriel’s Hall), the Men in Graterford Prison, and people from the neighborhood.
The writing came about through workshops facilitated by Homer and Joseph P. Blake a former Inquirer Editor and freelance writer. The topics ranged from the good and bad events that make up day to day life in the area, to the concept of community.

I took these messages and hid select phrases and sentences throughout the mural design, so they become a discoverable interactive element. I also cut leaves out of cement board and embedded actual glass bottles in them to contain the messages. There are over 30 cement leaves scattered throughout the wall with these messages.

The design depicts kids in the act of stuffing the bottles with their messages and getting them tangled in the tree branches. Between the leaves are hidden images which represent 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.

The tree itself is 700sq ft of stained glass and mirror; around 900lbs! My friends and fellow muralists Mike Reali and Delia King, and assistants Kyle Thorpe, and Charlie Patterson spent a whopping 4 months cutting and arranging the glass into leaf shapes and tree bark, in a very cold studio over the winter. We’ve taken some time lapse footage of our worktable throughout the 4 months but that is for another post.

We were able to recruit everyone who participated in the writing to paint many of the murals figures. The Students of Sr. Deborah’s art class came through in a big big way contributing two painted figures. We even held special days during the installation for kids on the block to come around and paint right on the wall.

In the end, we managed to collaborate with close to 150 residents and students who volunteered their time contributing to this work.

Final Mural Shots
click the thumbnails to enlarge

Pictures of the dedication
All photos by Michael Reali
click the thumbnails to enlarge

Busiest. Month. Ever.

Its pretty hard to believe that its been more than a month since Ive updated this thing, especially considering all of the posts I could have made about mural events and related craziness.

I’m almost at the end of one of the busiest craziest months ever. All month long I have been hard at work with Michelle Ortiz and Kien Nguyen on our “This We Believe” citywide Mural design. I cant really post much on this yet as we are still in competition. The designs will be presented to the press on the 30th and the online voting happens between May 4th-18th. I personally have never put so much work into one of my designs before, its enormously detailed, and Im very proud of the sheer scope of it.

Here’s a fun fact: The Photoshop file of the design is almost an entire gigabyte in size, and takes a full 15 minutes to save!

In the coming weeks look for a full description of the design complete with photos and details.

Right after our preliminary design review on April 8th, I drove straight to 52nd and Master to the site of my “From Behind The Mask” mural. The next week would be spent finally installing the mask, checking for air bubbles, and sealing the mural. I worked with a different team for the installation: Joseph Verdi and Matt Dougherty of Nicholas Della Vecchia Construction. Joe and Matt were on hand to make sure the mask was properly installed to the wall. I was confident in my plans, but because the sculpture would be hung 20 feet high over a parking lot I wanted to make sure the installation was tight. Joe and Matt were great to work with, and the mask was up without incident in 2 days. Here is a slideshow of the final mural.

With the mural finally finished it was a race to wrap up the content of two Flash based webpages I was working on for the “Visual Restoration” Exhibit. The pages consist of the murals themselves, you can click on any area of the mural to get more photos and information of the particular section.

Here are the links to the sites, please note the button on the bottom right which expands each page to fullscreen.

Greenfield Year One: Restoration

Greenfield Year Two: From Behind the Mask

Each computer in the Eakins House Lab were set to the sites, and people were given a sheet of questions to research and answer. Those with the most answers correct were entered in a drawing to win tickets to this year’s Wall Ball.

The companion book to the projects, Visual Restoration by Phoebe Zinman was officially released that night as well. Phoebe did a great job of covering both years, and all of the photography, writing, painting, and events that went with them.

The show had a decent turn out opening night, it should be up for another month.

This past Sunday was the dedication in West Philly for From Behind the Mask. A lot of people in the neighborhood came out, it was a good time hosted by the Bibleway Baptist Church.
Pics will be up as soon as I can get them.

Now that these big events are over, I have to spend the remainder of the month finalizing the Citywide design, and finishing up the Anthropologie Mural with my Corps students.
We’ve been feverishly painting throughout the month to try and get this done. Next week is our last week to work, then Kien and I will take the Mural to NYC for installation. The opening will be on the morning of May 6th. Our classes will have to board the chartered bus at 6am.

On the night of May 6th, I will sleep the sleep of ages.

Greenfield Restorative Justice Exhibition

April 17th is the Opening Reception for the Greenfield Restorative Justice Exhibition. The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation funded two of my most recent projects, which took about 2 years
to complete, and yielded countless photographs (From Howard Zehr and Harvey Finkle) , poetry and stories, student paintings and murals, audio interviews, and video. All of which will be on display in one form or another. A book, written by Phoebe Zinman, detailing the output of both projects will also make its debut and should be for sale that evening.

Im working on a web based interactive component for the opening that will take the viewer through both murals, expanding on the symbolism and meaning behind the imagery.

Here is a flyer i just made, the date is set but the times may change a bit. The show is throughout the Thomas Eakins House, Mural Arts base of operations located at 17th and Mount Vernon Sts. (just 2 blocks above Spring Garden. )

Please come out!

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