Wall murals are a city highlight, if you can find them

A bus tour on Saturday will visit 30 of about 80

Outside: sports, activities, events

August 19, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Many of Baltimore's most stunning murals are hard to find. They are on the sides of industrial buildings and tucked away in neighborhoods seldom visited by outsiders. But they represent some of the most accessible art in Baltimore, and the city's Office of Promotion and the Arts wants more people to enjoy them.

The office recently designed a bus tour highlighting 30 murals - mostly in western Baltimore. The next tour is Saturday. Later this year, the office plans to produce a map featuring the roughly 80 murals they oversee.

"A lot of people see Baltimore as an upside down Y," said Barbara Zektick, a Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts staff member, on a recent drive around the city to view murals. "They know up and down Charles Street and Federal Hill and Canton. They don't see these parts of town." Zektick and her boss, Randi Vega, the executive director of the office, served as tour guides.

The murals don't adhere to a theme, although many of them depict community figures and scenes from the neighborhoods. Some are playful and bold, others somber and realistic.

"It's so exciting to stumble upon a gem like this," Vega said as she pulled up across from one work at Monroe and Ramsey streets.

The large work by Baltimore native Mary Carfagno Ferguson spans two buildings and shows two giant children - a white girl on one surface and a black boy on the other - kneeling down playing in the grass.

She painted an alley on a wall at 343 Scott St., and she created realistic nature scenes and large archways on other Baltimore walls - she likes to trick the eye into believing her painted scene is a real part of the neighborhood.

Another mural on the tour is a large mosaic on the side of Martha's Place - a drug rehabilitation building at 1928 Pennsylvania Ave. Vega calls it the Hallelujah mural.

It is a tiled portrait of a middle-aged black woman standing with both arms upstretched toward the sky. The woman, Deborah Tolson, was one of the first people to successfully complete the six-month residential program at Martha's Place. In the picture, her entire body expresses joy and relief.

Baltimore's mural program works closely with community leaders to raise funds, hire artists and decide on a mural design. It supplies house paint - often donated from local businesses - for the artist to use. Other major cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, have similar programs.

"A mural is not a picture on a wall, it is painted on a wall," said Vega. The best walls are smooth and face north to lessen sun damage. Sometimes there is a window in the middle of the wall, or a vent. Sometimes there are cracks or ridges that stick out. Mural artists cleverly incorporate the imperfections into the design.

A mural generally takes one to four months to complete. James Voshell's highly detailed mural at 2229 1/2 West Pratt St. showing snapshots from the community took 10 weeks. The artist worked seven days a week with only two days off.

"I calculated that he was paid $3 an hour," said Zektick. Although the colors are fading, the realistically rendered pictures do look like oversized photographs - especially from a passing car.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts' next mural tour is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The tour is two hours and makes a stop at Lexington Market for lunch. It departs from and returns to the Baltimore Visitors Center on Light Street at the Inner Harbor. The cost is $15, $10 for seniors and children under 12. Reservations are required. Call 410-752-8632 or visit www.bop.org.

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