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The Mural Artists Who Painted My Childhood

What if you realized that you’ve been living in a museum throughout most of your life? That’s the way I felt during my fall semester at community college back in 2019 when I realized that Mural Artist Jane Golden is partially responsible for the mural paintings, I grew up looking at as a child. It wasn’t just Jane Golden; other artists played a role in the art I grew up with and the stories behind the paintings are just as memorable as the paintings themselves.

The first mural painting was created by pop artist Keith Haring, and the art piece is titled We the Youth. It was created in 1987, in South Philadelphia on 22nd and Ellsworth Street according to Mural Arts Philadelphia. It’s also the only mural of Keith Haring, that’s still intact and in its original location. The story behind this painting is based on childhood innocence and energetic spirit. “Located at 22nd & Ellsworth Streets, We the Youth was created in collaboration with CityKids of New York and Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia.” Stated by the Mural Arts organization. “With its limned, primary-colored beauty, lyrical characters, and childlike innocence, the mural is quintessential Keith Haring. In the work and on the wall, Haring’s artistic vision – his energy, life, and spirit – serves as his testimony.”

Having lived in South Philadelphia for twelve years, this was one of the most common murals I saw every time I was traveling with my family. It was a fascinating mural to look at because of the colorful visuals of figures dancing together. Knowing now the history behind the painting, I have a newfound understanding of what this painting means to me, which is a symbol of my inner childhood innocence of wanting to be vibrant and full of life.

The second mural painting was created by mural artist Joshua Sarantitis, and the art piece is titled Secret Book. It was created in 1999, and is located at 310-318 N 19th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 as stated in the Secret Art Cities. The story behind this painting is a poetic one, due to its purpose of being about reading and using your imagination. “…this mural shows a girl "expanding imagination through reading" while reading the words "and now I will unclasp a secret book" from the historic play - King Henry IV by Shakespeare.” Stated by the Secret Art Cities organization. “The message here the artist and the Philadelphia public library wanted to show is how rewarding and what a creative outlet reading can be.”

I remember driving past this mural painting regularly, whenever I was traveling home with my family. I always thought it was a beautiful mural, with its interesting imagery in the background of the little girl and I often wondered why the painting was created in the way that it is. Knowing now that this mural painting is based on reading and having an imagination, it makes more sense because as the girl is reading a book the imagery in the background symbolizes the thoughts of her imagination in her head.

I relate to this painting because as a child, I enjoyed reading and would often have many imaginations in my head as I read various stories. Having an interest in reading nourished my imagination and made me the writer that I am today. So, I have a greater appreciation for this painting given its connection to me.

The third mural painting was created by mural artist Meg Saligman, and the art piece is titled Common Threads. It was created in 1998, and it’s located at 525 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. It’s known to be one of Philadelphia’s most famous mural paintings that sets the bar for the contemporary mural movement, as stated on the Meg Saligman website. The story behind this painting is a fascinating unique story, considering that this painting represents the Philadelphia community as well as figurines of different generations. “Common Threads links the lives of Philadelphians across boundaries of race, gender, and class.” Stated by the Meg Saligman studio. “In this work, local students mirror the poses of antique figurines, representing an intersection of lives through art – shared humanity.”

Traveling back and forth between North and South Philadelphia, I saw this mural painting many times whenever I came across the spring garden with my family as a child. Then when I became an adult and started attending Community College of Philadelphia on Main Campus, I started seeing mural painting even more regularly than before. I enjoyed the painting. I was fascinated by the various amounts of people included, and I was curious to know the story behind the painting as I always was with many mural paintings.

Now that I know the story, I realize how beautiful and powerful this mural truly is. Knowing that it has the combination of both past and present figures, feels so unifying as it symbolizes how we’re all the same even though we represent different generations, and we can both benefit from each other by getting to know each other. To sum up, I’ve lived in the city of Philadelphia all my life and the mural paintings I’ve mentioned here are no stranger to me, but their backstories always were because I never knew of them.

Now that I do know their stories, I have a greater appreciation for these mural paintings, I have a greater appreciation for my childhood that included these mural paintings, and I have a greater appreciation for the artists who created these mural paintings. These mural paintings are more than just art pieces that are part of me, and they’re more than just art pieces that are part of my community, Philadelphians are part of these mural paintings because they each represent some portion of black culture as well as what it means to be part of a community. I give my appreciation, support, and gratitude to the art community.

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