Tag Archive: Restorative Justice


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!

My Work in 2008

Here is a slide show of all my 2008 work. I could have spent hours uploading the thousands of pics I’ve taken during these projects… so I decided to leave out progress shots and workshop photos. They can be viewed on the main page. Instead, here are the final shots and details of my work last year.

To see the slide show you might need a flash plug-in, which can be downloaded here.

FINISHED!!!! (for now)

As of January 3rd I wrapped up the Mural. The final title is From Behind the Mask. It was a tough December but we all got through it, and just in time as the next two weeks saw temperatures plummet. Its insane to think that virtually none of this existed at the beginning of December. The faux brick finish and arches were in place. Thats it! We didnt even install the mosaic until the 5th or 6th.

Everything on the wall is finished except for the mask. We were able to complete the sculpture indoors, but the weather just wasnt on our side for an installation. I photoshopped the final mask photo on to the wall to give an idea of what it will look like after a spring installation. The mask will stand a foot and a half from the wall.



The Stained Glass arches at sundown. The mural looks great in the sunset’s red-orange hue.


This video captures the installation from beginning to end.

“From Behind the Mask” Mural Installation

Many thanks to my team of assistants (Katharine Clark-Gray, Charlie Patterson, Mike Reali, Khalil Brown, Koran Morris, and Terell Mclamb) who worked through the weather and helped finish a very ambitious project within such a small amount of time.

Mask and Painting Workshops

We had our final community workshop for the Bibleway mural on the14th. This time around, my assistants and I spent the week before constructing a mask that will stand a foot and a half from the wall and 7 feet in diameter. In addition to painting panels of the mural, people took part in decorating the mask with stained glass and beads .

Here are a few photos from the various workshops and paint days…


For the first day I had everyone start off by painting the most important image of the wall, the main figures face.


Katherine Clark Gray led a series of maskmaking workshops over the summer with bibleway youth. Inspired, I felt it would be appropriate to incorporate masks into the design and run with it as a theme, culminating in the class returning to work on one last HUGE mask. Here she is setting up guidelines before the workshop


Once everything is laid out glass and beads were cut and adhered to the mask.


While the mask is worked on, some people chose to stick with painting mural panels. Having the group on the mask provided this man some elbow room to add his finishing touches.


The almost finished mask. Due to weather, the mask will have to be installed during the springtime. The overall shape was broken into two pieces to make installation easier, and to get the piece in and out of the building.

My Progress so far…

Its cold out there…

I need one more good day over 50 degrees to install the rest of the mural. Everything else is just painting directly on the wall and touch-ups.

We had our final community workshop on the 14th where we painted and decorated with glass a 7 foot in diameter mask that will stand out a foot and a half in relief from the wall. Pics to follow

Heres a “Time Lapse” video of the mural’s progress

“From Behind the Mask” Mural Installation

Nothing Like the last minute…

I was fortunate to find a window of opportunity to install a 15ft x 18ft mosaic piece on the Bibleway Wall this past week, in spite of the weather getting colder by the day. I had 2 days of mild temperatures to work with, and with the help of my 5 man crew, we wrapped up just in time.

Here is a shot of the Murals design.

The design took its inspiration from a summers worth of neighborhood programs involving writing, painting, and maskmaking, and is very loosely inspired by the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem “We Wear the Mask”. The theme revolves around healing, and the ways in which ones faith and surrounding friends and neighbors can provide support. The photos are taken from actual events over the summer, and the two main figures were summer participants who posed for me. The imagery of the waterfall in the arches appears as actual stained glass that my assistants and I spent a month cutting. The waterfall continues in paint below the bridge. The water and the idea of reflection were a way of bringing religious elements to the design without being too heavy handed. The design was a collaborative effort between my Graterford Prison Class and myself.

Now that there is a tiny bit of background on the design… here is the mosaic installed, which at the time of this photo is 90% finished. It took a month to cut in my studio, and its my most ambitious mosaic piece to date. Its comprised of about 40-50 different colors, and (in terms of total square footage) my largest stained glass piece.

This week will probably be the last bit of decent weather we have this year, and I was very lucky to get this up in time. I wasn’t particularly fond of leaving the arches blank until the springtime.

the small pic doesnt do the cuts justice, so here are a few details

…just getting started

2008 marks my 10th year of being a Muralist. In those 10 years I’ve found myself racing against winter weather to finish a Mural at least 6 times.

Ive painted:

  • in the snow
  • during actual snowstorms
  • in freezing weather using a heatgun
  • in the freezing rain with blue tarps running from the roof to the tops of the scaffolding
  • on New Years Day in the snow
  • On a day that registered -1 degree (I was installing a buildout that day)

This year will be no different.

Im doing a project at 52nd and Master Sts on the site of the Bibleway Baptist Church. Mural Arts has had a presence in the neighborhood, drumming up support and collaborations for the project, since the early summer. The design is approved and Im beginning to cut glass for a large portion of the wall.

The mural will be multimedia: glass, paint, and relief sculpture. The project is a tall order in terms of finishing before the winter season. However I remember a few muralists working in January this past year because the weather worked in their favor.
I’m hoping for a little luck.

If anyone reading this finds themselves trying to finish a project in the winter time, here are a few tips from me on how to stay warm.

  • Boil your brush water in the morning.
    It takes a little extra time but fill up a pot and bring it to a boil. pour the water in the 5gal bucket and cover it. Your guaranteed a good 5 hours of warm water, so your not freezing your fingers off cleaning your brushes.

  • Layers, and tucking in clothing
    Wear some longjohns under your pants and tuck them in your socks. Tuck one of your many tshirts solidly into your underwear. I swear this keeps you 10 degrees warmer.
  • If you can, work with the sun
    If you arent in a desperate mad dash to finish like I will be, work afternoons when its warmer, OR work when you have sunlight. Everyone painting a mural should know where the sun will be and when. East facing walls get the morning sun, West facing walls are good in the afternoon.
  • Make friends with the neighbors
    Seriously… out of pity it might get you a cup of coffee, or even a home cooked meal at the end of the day.
  • Grow a serious beard (or wear a scarf)
    I foresaw my situation months ago, Since then I’ve been farming an intense beard to help combat the cold.


On to the wall…

This is the wall. The building was once the home of Rev. Jones and his father. Now it acts as a community center.
Its roughly 40ft high by 60ft wide. In the design (which I will post soon) I saw an opportunity to use the facade’s unique shape to my advantage, bringing out some architectural elements in the design.

This part of 52nd Street has 4 or 5 different churches on it, you can see another right across the street from Bibleway.

Across the street is a mural by Paris Stancell. Paris was the first muralist I met when I started 10 years ago. He’s done some really great work throughout the city, and to me, he is one of the few artists that are synonymous with the Mural Arts Program.
Part of my design reflects the arches and the stained glass feel of this wall. I felt that it was important to have some sort of reference to the work as it is right across the street. I wanted to create some kind of dialogue between the two walls. I feel that people will naturally make those connections, and possibly create new ones.

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