Delphi Art Partners and George W. Sharswood School: “I AM Sharswood” Mural Project

The Resource Exchange team is so excited about this project from Andrew Christman and the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Delphi Partners Program, which utilized reclaimed materials for their mural at George W. Sharswood School in South Philadelphia. We appreciate Andrew Christman's passion and enthusiasm for the project and for incorporating reclaimed materials found at the re. We warmly welcome him as a guest contributor on our blog! 

My name is Andrew Christman, I am a teaching artist who works with middle school students throughout  Philadelphia through the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Delphi Art Partners Program. I am very grateful to The Resource Exchange for helping to connect me with the materials that needed to make a recent residency at the George W. Sharswood School, in South Philadelphia a success. Before I go any further into describing the project and how we benefited from the Resource Exchange’s incredible stock of repurposed and recycled materials, let me give you a bit of info about the Delphi Art Partners...

“Delphi Art Partners is an artist-in-residence program, coordinated through the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that pairs professional artists with students from Philadelphia public middle school programs.  Artists spend thirty hours working with art teachers and students to create collaborative art projects and installations within their school community.  Students attend two customized tours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, led by professional museum educators, that add an innovative artistic dimension to the students’ school curriculum.

The Delphi Project Foundation works with cultural institutions to bring art into the lives of Philadelphia’s public school students.  Through innovative arts education and career education programs, Delphi increases access to the arts, promotes cultural expression, strengthens critical thinking skills, and builds self-esteem.  Generous funding for the Delphi Project Foundation is provided by Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, a member of Tokio Marine Group.”

Last summer, I had my first meeting with Sharswood’s AMAZING Art teacher Gabriella James and her student teaching assistant Stephanie Coates to conceive of the basic framework of the project. Gabriella was determined to work with the Sharswood School’s 8th graders to create a JOYFUL mural that CELEBRATES the DIVERSITY OF SOUTH PHILADELPHIA and specifically, the school’s  community. She expressed the sentiment that while most everybody associates the Mummers and their annual musical and celebrations, there are MANY ways that students and families of Sharswood celebrate and share their cultural milestones, whether they are Chinese, Vietnamese, African American, Mexican, Italian, Polish.. The list goes on. Additionally, Gabriella and the students pointed out in discussions that within the school, there were many ways in which the diverse cultural experiences of all of the community were shared and celebrated, most notably, in the 8th grade graduation ceremonies and poetry project in which students shared poems entitled “I Am From”. In these poems, students have traditionally shared images and descriptions of family meals, celebrations of holidays and stories of their families in countries abroad.

So it was settled, this mural would be on the wall behind the stage of the auditorium, because this is the place from which these students will graduate in June and their “I am From Poems” are read. This project would be a gift from the graduating class to the school community and all of the future 8th graders who would celebrate this milestone in years to come.

We decided that through a multimedia approach similar to my own studio practice, I would encourage students to collect, scan, print images of family and friends, the neighborhood architecture and portrait photography. We started a google account to which community members could send precious photos, school staff donated archived yearbooks that went back to the 1930’s, students searched images online and we posed for photo-booth style portraits in festive costumes.

The idea was that the layers and layers of wheat pasted images, collaged onto a series of large wood panels would reflect the exciting, joyful cacophony of meanings, cultural experiences, and time periods that we all experience daily. Additionally, we generated may different visual representations of the words in ou poems through handwriting, typing fonts, finding words in magazines, neighborhood signs and graffitti. The personal, “I am From” poems were mashed together to make a collective “I am From Sharswood” poem, which was woven throughout the mural.”

After several weeks of generating many ideas in discussion,  practicing different techniques of collaging images using celebrities and historical figures from South Philly and collecting images of our favorite foods, we were ready to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to take our project to another level. We had prepared for our first visit to the museum by observing images of artists from Andy Warhol to Thomas Eakins to Shen Wei to Beauford Delaney and Judith Joy Ross. We focused especially on portraits with “monumental” ( rom the shoulders up) compositions in the PMA exhibit Face to Face: Portraits of Artists. We also looked at still lives of food to get inspired on how to compose and color images of cheesesteaks, pho, tacos and peking duck in our mural designs.

But once we got to the museum, the project started taking on a life of its own! The students started dreaming up a whole new concept for the mural design. This is where the Resource Exchange began to play a critical role in helping their mural become something extra-extra special and fun!

As expected, our awesome museum educators customized engaging gallery tours for our 8th graders according to a description of our project goals. They took us to see a series of portraits by Carl Van Vechten and Samuel Fosso. We learned how a Van Vechten’s  portraits were be arranged in a series to convey the feeling of a community of artists writers and activists. His portraits of mostly African American artists and writers were especially exciting because they included South Philly heroes such as Marion Anderson, Paul Robeson and Billy Holiday. Samuel Fosso’s portraits inspired us to get extra creative with our poses and costume choices in future photo booth pictures back at the school. Paintings by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg demonstrated how we could use contrasting colors, photos, words and found objects on multi-paneled paintings to grab a viewer’s attention. But it was our visit to a period room - Grand Salon of the Château de Draveil that gave excited the students the most. We visited so that we may think about spaces in which gatherings and performances and meals and celebrations take place. Students made connections immediately! The mirrors and gold trim and wallpaper reminded each of them of indoor places in their community in which special events happened in their lives: The restaurant, the banquet hall, the temple, the church...grandma’s living room. Gold moulding, gold frames, decorative wallpaper and mirrors and collections of photographs became the common denominators across diverse cultural experiences. We should make our mural feel BOTH like the noisy, busy outside spaces of our neighborhood AND the festive, fancy and family-oriented spaces of our homes and places of gathering. Why not arrange our photos like the framed family pictures we all have seen packed onto the walls of restaurants, living rooms where we gather to be happy?

Once back at school, we went back to the drawing board and decide to make the top portion of our 10 foot foot x 20 foot wall look like grandma’s photo collection on the living room wall and the bottom portion our bustling South Philly block? The two halves of the mural would convey both the interior and exterior, the public and the intimate, the pedestrian experience and the houseguest experience.

We were sooooo excited about these new ideas..but where would we find enough vintage wallpaper at a reasonable price to cover our auditorium’s back wall?  It was getting late in the residency and we were having difficulty staying under budget already.  Where could we find enough eclectic vintage picture frames and mirrors that will convey that specific feeling that we get at Grandma’s? Thankfully, the Resource Exchange had EXACTLY what we had in mind. I found the perfect  mirror to be the central object in mural, reflecting back to the students sitting in the auditorium. I found the first 10 of our 24 frames in stock and most importantly, we found wallpaper designs that  “popped” from a distance,  busy enough to catch the eye, but simple enough that it unified the overall mural composition, and definitely classic, mid century in its design. Resource Exchange also had tons of colorful printing paper on which we could print the text for our poems so that we could incorporate them into the compositions of the bottom and middle section and they didn’t get “lost in the sauce” visually. Not only is it great to have Resource Exchange as a means of finding great materials that inspire at great prices. It’s encouraging to know that the materials we used might have been wasteful landfill debris, had it not been donated.

 

To learn more about Delphi Programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art visit http://www.philamuseum.org/communityengagement .  Are you a professional artist or a middle/high school teacher who’d like to get involved?  Contact Joseph Iacona, Delphi Programs Coordinator, Division of Education, Philadelphia Museum of Art at Joseph.iacona@philamuseum.org or 215-684-7601

 

 

 
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