It will arrive in pieces, a puzzle of art that will slowly grow from the top down.
Last week, world-renowned artist Paul Santoleri began installation of a second mural for the Roxborough Pocket Park, one of the final phases in the park’s development. Within a few weeks, this larger-than-life mural will be completed, and become a permanent part of the green community space.
“We are excited to see this go up,” said Roxborough Development Corp. Executive Director James Calamia. “We wanted to make sure we engaged the community and that we would continue the watershed theme started by the Philadelphia Water Department.”
“We wanted to make sure we engaged the community and that we continued the watershed theme...”
The mural, created in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, will be installed in sections on the wall along the New Ridge Brewing Co. and grow into Santoleri’s newest work, a mirrored cityscape juxtaposed with the elusive tulip tree flower. The mural was funded by the RDC and a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. It was designed to complement Santoleri’s first mural on the opposite wall of the park, which was funded by the Philadelphia Water Department.
The Roxborough Pocket Park lot was once a vacant lot, a gap in the corridor left by a fire in the 1970s. It was acquired by RDC to support the corridor in 2017 and reinvented as green space for everyday community use and special events in the heart of the Ridge Avenue Commercial Corridor. The 5,500-square-foot space is adjacent to the recently opened New Ridge Brewing Co. and is part of the Schuylkill River watershed. It features a basin that slows the flow of stormwater into the watershed as well as pavers and native trees and plants.
Santoleri has been a part of the pocket park project since its inception a few years ago. He watched it go from a vacant dirt lot to one of the crown jewels of the Avenue. This mural is the latest phase of the park’s transformation into a community hub that celebrates nature and protects the Wissahickon and Schuylkill River watersheds at their juncture right along the Avenue.
The mural’s design was created through collaborative meetings with members of the Roxborough community, local businesses and civic leaders, as well as a design review committee from Mural Arts Philadelphia. Because Santoleri did the first mural, it seemed only fitting that the second mural continue his work.
“The walls will literally talk to each other across the park,” said Brian Campbell, contract project manager with Mural Arts Philadelphia.
Santoleri is no stranger to the community. Born in Roxborough, he studied at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in the ‘80s, before getting his masters from the University of Arizona in Tucson. He then traveled the world, bringing his unique ability to mix mediums on walls from France, Germany, Nigeria, Brazil, Denmark and other locations. He is responsible for a multitude of murals in Philadelphia in conjunction with Mural Arts Philadelphia, from wall art at the Philadelphia Zoo to the unique mosaics and 3D concrete relief images at Manayunk’s Fountain Steps.
“I’ve done a number of things in the area, a circle of murals. I find it fascinating that [Roxborough and Manayunk] are junction points for an intertwined watershed,” he said. “I feel like in the end, a mural is a backdrop to life. It adds color, gives a moment of pause and a thought about nature.”
"A mural is a backdrop to life. It adds color, gives a moment of pause and a thought about nature.”
Santoleri said his new mural will be a continuation of his first across the park, called “Watershed,” which pays tribute to local nature and animals. This second mural will be a mirrored wonder that he and a crew of about 15 to 20 artists will create using beveled glass upcycled from an old theater on Broad Street, as well as paint, to juxtapose images of local architecture and landmarks (including our signature radio towers) with a giant tulip tree blossom.
“A tulip tree flowers in the spring. It is high up in the tree and isn’t always seen,” he said. “I wanted to make it huge on the wall. The flowering tree is kind of like what Roxborough is… the community, the architecture, the thriving businesses.”
“The mirrors are shaped like sequins and will dance on the design,” Santoleri said. “They will reflect the mural on the other side, and they look like droplets of water.”
The mural sections are done on polypropylene cloth. While the entire piece will measure roughly 35 by 90 feet, the crew is painstakingly creating five-by-four-foot sections in a studio on the cloth which will then be pieced together on site. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted artists working on the mural to do more in-studio work, rather than exterior painting, Campbell said. Philadelphia’s famous Dr. J mural at 1234 Ridge was made in a similar way by Los Angeles muralist Kent Twitchell, who pioneered the technique.
“The wall will be primed this week, then the panels will go up using a heavy gel,” said Campbell. “When it dries, it actually becomes like a second skin [on the wall.”