New Project: Documenting Boston’s Murals


Dear Subscriber/Reader,

I would like to introduce you all to a project I have been quietly working on for a little over a year. I have been walking the streets of Boston exploring its colorful neighborhoods and photographing every mural in the city in hopes of shedding some light on Boston’s rich mural history. I hope you head over to my Tumblr page and check out the 63 murals I have uploaded so far and learn more about this project. I have many more photographs of murals in my files that I need to upload and many more that I need to photograph.

Have you seen a mural that you think I have not seen? Email me the address and I’ll photograph it.

Governor Paul LePage of Maine recently removed a piece of the state’s mural history from the Department of Labor building in Augusta, an act so frivolous that not only angered many people in this country, but also made us more aware of the beautiful murals that enrich our lives on a daily basis. This is the story of Boston:

Boston’s Murals

Summer 2011 – The Potential “Death” of Modernism

UPDATE: THE WHEATLEY SCHOOL WAS DEMOLISHED ON JUNE 17, 2011.

 

This past March I blogged about the Phyllis Wheatley School in New Orleans which is under the threat of demolition. I feel compelled to share a wonderful short documentary by Evan Mather which highlights the architectural and cultural significance of the Wheatley School, because I care enough about modern architecture to ignore the fact this is a Boston centric blog.

Another important piece of modern architecture under the threat of a possible demolition this summer is Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital for Women in Chicago, IL. If you did not know, there is a connection between Prentice Hospital in Chicago and the city of Boston, in that Goldberg had attended Harvard University and opened a branch of his design office here in 1964. Learn about the architect’s project here in Boston.

Review: “Susurrus”

Susurrus, Photogragh taken from DavidLeddy.com

To close out its inaugural season of cutting edge programming, ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage invites everyone to remember, record, reminisce and recollect with David Leddy’s experimental play “Susurrus.” A play without actors or a stage, “Susurrus” (pronounced sus-YOO-rus, it refers to a soft murmuring or the rustling sound of wind in trees) is a delightful and mesmerizing journey into the beauty of love, life, and melancholic loss.

Conceived by “Scotland’s hottest, edgiest young playwright,” (Sunday Times UK) “Susurrus” is part of Leddy’s Auricular Series; site specific audio works that are listened to on headphones at locations selected by the artist. The play originally premiered at the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow to wide critical acclaim. It is now on a world tour and opens on May 20 in Boston.

Instead of the traditional theatre setting, George Meachum’s 1859 Public Garden becomes the stage for “Susurrus” and a map of it drawn by Scottish illustrator Laura Molloy, who has illustrated record covers for Belle and Sebastian, becomes the playbill. As for an audience, there is no audience besides you, and every tourist and local strolling around the park (don’t stress, they’re not paying attention to you, so feel free to indulge and rejoice!).

Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this part radio play, part tour-guide, part Avant-Garde Sonic Art and part stroll in the park experience, is an evolving dialogue between Leddy’s character’s, art, nature, the built environment and the participants. As participants, one blossoms into a performance artist throughout the duration of the play.

As we “artistically develop,” we encounter sculptures or uninterrupted vistas that may provoke us to sit and contemplate the play, move around and explore the sculpture’s formal qualities. It is at this point of the performance that we begin to draw visual connections between “Susurrus” and the public art that surrounds us. In between acts (movement from one location to another), we’re serenaded with beautiful joyful, mournful and melancholic opera. These beautifully orchestrated walks also feature the music of Bjork, the popular Icelandic singer.

The unpredictable nature of “Susurrus” makes it a worthwhile and exhilarating experience strolling through the public garden. The play lasts around an hour and 20 minutes, but if you’re like me, briefly stop to look at the azaleas or admire the bark of the dawn redwoods (planted between location 2 and 3 on the “Susurrus” map) while being serenaded to beautiful harmonies.

Listening to birds chirping in the opening act in the midst of the loud sirens of fire trucks driving ,by is all part of this thrilling experience. What is even more thrilling is sitting on a bench intensely listening to Helena (Wendy Seager) telling her family story and of her time seeing a psychiatrist while a large group of tourists imitate the ducklings in Nancy Schon’s “Make Your Way for Duckings” sculpture. Every lasting second of “Susurrus” makes for an extremely memorable experience.

David Leddy crafts a refreshing “theater” experience that engages every one of our senses. Our sense of sight, smell, hearing and touch are all stimulated by the bright flora, fresh cut grass, birds chirping and the chatter of mating geese and the Public Garden map by Molloy.

Don’t worry about looking silly following a green map around the public garden, David Leddy brilliantly acknowledges this “awkwardness” when you get to the Angel Statue sculpture. If the characters in this wonderful and dazzling play can poke fun at themselves, you can too! The closing date is June 05, 2011. 

Tickets are $25, and are on sale now at www.artsemerson.org or by phone at (617) 824-8000

Black Boston: Freedom in the Empire and the Republic

Last winter, I had a wonderful experience with Context Travel exploring the new Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This Spring, I had another wonderful experience with Context on an in depth, three hour long walking tour of Black Boston. The tour was led by Alex Goldfeld, the President and Historian of the North End Historical Society, and the former Director of Operations at Museum of African American History.

Besides being a historian of the North End; Boston’s “Little Italy,” Alex Goldfeld has also conducted extensive research on the history of African Americans in Boston. The Black Boston: Freedom in the Empire and the Republic tour met in front of the statue of Paul Revere in the North End and ended in front of the African Meeting House on the north slope of Beacon Hill. The tour took us back to the year 1638, the date when the first Africans arrived in Boston.

Within the first five minutes of the tour, we wanted to know what type of work the first Africans performed in Boston. Context Travel walking tours are often very small and foster an environment where questions are encouraged throughout the tour, regardless of how “ignorant” we think those questions may be. After all, Context Travel organizes walking tours for the “intellectually curious.” According to Alex, the first Africans in Boston were considered “Jack of all Trades,” they were trained to milk a cow and to tend to other domestic duties of the house.

The three hour long tour took us along Boston’s Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail, stopping at many of Boston’s most recognized landmarks. The inspiring stories of Bostonians and their courageous journey in their quest for freedom were all weaved in with the architectural and landscape treasures of Boston.  Among the landmarks included in the tour are:

Old Church Church – Boston’s oldest church dating back to 1723.

Copps Hill Burial Ground – Boston’s first black colony, called “New Guinea” was located on Copps Hill’s northeastern base of the North End. The western point of the burial ground, the least desirable one and  was reserved for blacks, both slaves and free. The Prince Hall monument commemorates the blacks buried here.

Prince Hall Monument

Faneuil Hall – Built in the style of an English country market, it served as a platform on which women advocated for voting and equal rights and abolitionists spoke against the cruelties of slavery.

The Old State House – The site where the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians on July 18, 1776. This was also the site of the Boston Massacre and where Crispus Attucks was killed.

Park Street Church – William Lloyd Garrison gave his first speech against slavery here.

The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial – designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in collaboration with the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, the memorial commemorates the Massachusetts 54th Regiment; the first Civil War regiment of freed blacks led by Robert Gould Shaw.

Middleton-Glappion House, 5 Pinckney Street – Middleton was a black jockey coachman and founder of the African Society. The house is dated around 1795.

The Lewis and Harriet Hayden House – The house became an Underground Railroad Station. There is an amazing story attached to this house, but you’ll have to go on this tour to hear it.

The Abiel Smith School – First school built for black children designed by Richard Upjohn.

The African Meeting House – An amazing and inspiring building built by blacks and often attributed to Asher Benjamin as architect. William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 in this building. The building is now owned by the African American History Museum and is undergoing a restoration and is expected to open to the public later this year.

For a more detailed account and more stories please also see Melissa Mannon’s post on ArchivesInfo, who accompanied me on the tour.

Click here for more information on all the walking tours offered by Context Travel.

African Meeting House, photo by Erica Holthausen

Review: Andy Zimmermann “Where Am I?”

Meing and Nothingness (detail), Andy Zimmermann

When confronted with Andy Zimmermann’s current work at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, as a viewer, I cannot avoid but feel narcissistic and disconnected from the world. One cannot view Zimmermann’s sculptures without staring at our reflection in the mirrors that hang on the walls which serve as the main components in the sculptures of Andy Zimmermann’s Where Am I?

Meing and Nothingness, a massive and chaotic arrangement of mirrors mounted on welded steel tripods constantly remind us of our presence in the gallery space, as with all the four other sculptures in the show. With mirrors pointing at every direction, we’re left to ask; am I the narcissistic one? Or is it the artist?

The answer to those questions lies in the work, here&here&here, a five part welded steel and audio electronic sculpture dispersed throughout Zimmermann’s side of the gallery (the Boston Sculptors Gallery shows two artists concurrently, at this time Benjamin Cariens shares the other half of the space). Here&here&here tells us that it is not about the viewer, but rather about the artist. Or is it?

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the artist calls on the viewer to find him here and here and here. As viewers, we are left with only questions as we do not know where exactly is the “here” or “there.” With a psychology and studio art degree from Harvard College in 1975 and M.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2003, it only seems natural to me that Zimmermann’s works at the Boston Sculptors Gallery deal with personality disorders like narcissism because of his psychology background as an undergraduate.

Other than its psychological intentions, I found it difficult to find much substance in all the mirrors that make up the work of Andy Zimmermann. The sound that accompanies the works is at times soothing and haunting, but it doesn’t move me or make any deep personal connections with the work.

Where Am I? is on view until May 22.

Dressing Room, Andy Zimmermann

Review: Where I Live

Where I Live is an interactive sound installation featuring the voices of teens of The Urbano Project, a Boston based youth not-for profit arts organization. Under the guidance of Alison Kotin, the aim of this installation is to “promote civic engagement through works of art that address issues of our time.”

The installation does address pressing issues in our society. It addresses the crime and violence that are plaguing our streets and taking the lives of innocent citizens on a daily basis. In an indirect way, it also addresses the lack of attention paid by local officials to peripheral urban areas and the teens and adults that inhabit these.

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the participant in this installation is confined to a square demarcated by four columns in the center of the gallery and black tape on the floor. It is within this space that we as participants begin to experience the effects that growing up in an urban environment have had on the teens behind Where I Live. More than anything, I believe the installation stresses the importance of arts education in lending a voice to those without political power or political awareness in our communities.

“We all need to support the arts” says Former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno in a report sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. “In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.[1]” Consistently throughout our educational history, arts education, in particular in public schools has been neglected and frowned upon.

Art classes offered in urban schools are seen as a waste of tax payers’ dollars, often leading to the partial or complete elimination of art programs in many of our nation’s schools. As a result of budget cuts, small community based youth arts organizations like The Urbano Project have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner city young adults, performing the work that schools, in my opinion, must do to better our society.

Studies sponsored by the United States Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts and other highly respected cultural policy and arts advocacy organizations, have demonstrated that community collaboration through the arts has had a more far-reaching effect on youth at risk than any other youth programs in the United States. These studies have consistently emphasized that participation in the arts by young people, in particular those living in poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, brighten up communities and inspire and equip young people with the tools needed to make positive change happen in the world.

Organizations like The Urbano Project most often include participants who have never had any formal training in the arts and also come from families who have never been exposed to cultural institutions and related arts activities growing up. This is the case for most students who attend the Boston Public School systems as I did. Because most of these organizations are founded with the mission of serving inner city youth and other underserved populations in major cities, their impact extends far and beyond their participants, an impact that is often difficult to quantify for policy makers.

The gallery in which Where I Live is installed doubles as an office and reception space, detracting from the intensity and even more powerful impact that this interactive sound work could have had on participants who experience it.

Where I live is a perfect example where communities engage in the process of creating social change through art making. This installation demonstrates that kids are the heart and soul of organizations like The Urbano Project; they identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make change happen. This is exactly what Where I live has achieved. It has given a voice to teens “not heard or heeded by adult policymakers.”


[1] Pederson, Julie and Adriana de Kanter, et al. Safe and Smart: Making After School Hours Work for Kids, United States Department of Justice (December 1999). 1.

Review: River Street

Saturday May 1st, Daniel Phillips preparing for the installation of River Street (center)

A site specific installation in Hyde Park by Daniel Phillips, River Street fosters an enriching cross-cultural and multi-generational dialogue between people whose memories are encapsulated in the built environment and “outsiders” like me who might be interested in learning about the architectural, industrial, social and natural history of the site in its present state.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, historic places help citizens define their public pasts and trigger social memory through the urban landscape. Hayden investigates the concept of “place memory” through philosopher Edward S. Casey’s formulation, in that place memory “encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments that are entwined in the cultural landscape.”

River Street is installed on the former site of what was until 2004, the oldest operating paper mill in North America. Built on the Hyde Park side of the heavily polluted Neponset River, the history of the Tileston-Hollingsworth Paper Company extends as far back as 1733.

Besides its social and industrial history, the site of the mill complex was architecturally significant until recent years when it succumbed to demolition’s wrecking ball. The firm of W. Cornell Appleton and Frank A. Stearns (Appleton & Stearns), and later members of the illustrious Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, designed an 1890 “handsome” Georgian Revival office building which is no longer extant. In its present state, the remaining scars resulting from the demolition of the site evoke a sense of loss and nostalgia of an era gone-by.

River Street is a multi channel video projection composed of thousands of photographic stills shot on site by Daniel Phillips. For every one and a half minutes of video, it is estimated that approximately 900 photographs are used to create a time lapse moving image. Each photograph captures the passage of time, the crumbling death of the last remaining buildings on site and the slowly renewing life of the Neponset River Reservation. Projected on the loading bays of a dilapidated water pumping station, River Street triggers our memory by capturing those moments that vanish before our eyes. Moments like ice melting from the branches of trees or the rhythmic flow of the river or the transient life of the graffiti in the area, allow us to visually connect the past with the present.

A collaboration between the artist Daniel Phillips and Finnard Properties; the current owners and developers of the site, this one night installation of River Street was presented in conjunction withthe Boston Cyberarts Festival. The installation on Saturday April 30 attracted many members from the Hyde Park and Dorchester communities. “It was wonderful, breathtaking, unbelievable” says Adrian of Hyde Park, “This is my community, of course I had to be here tonight.”

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010