I was fortunate to work this fall as a volunteer lead artist at a pocket park located on 42nd and Ohio, here in Richmond. The park is adjacent to the train tracks and to Richmond’s Greenway. It sees a lot of foot and bicycle traffic, of people going to the commercial zone between 45 and 40th streets.
Fifteen students, part of Groundwork Richmond’s green team, took part in every step of its completion. The mural’s visual concepts belong to the students. The composition revolves around a tree woman whose branches extend protectively over the people of Richmond’s various communities. Four community figures are rendered in more detail in the foreground: police detective Gus Vegas, education director Kato Jaworski, community organizer Mis Lillie Mae Brown, and community activist Teri Katz. People we observed around the park were integrated into the background. The homes and the way the background figures are rendered responds to the students wish for bright colors and community businesses.
As lead artist, it was my job to organize this experience in a way that felt good to the students. I wanted them to feel happy and successful while participating in the drawing and painting. We began with a discussion of the mural’s theme and of what they would like to see included. I planned some exercises that helped them understand the need for a gris, mixing certain colors, and the use of stencils. Then I used their ideas and drawings to come up with a design incorporating flat areas of color, coupled with a more abstract take on the background characters. The neighbors loved it. Some came by every Saturday to encourage the teens and youth who came to paint.
The mural’s unveiling will place on October 15 at 12:00 noon. It will a community celebration celebration which will include the students, their families, the families of the four community figures, the neighbors and the many volunteers from various organizations who have turned the park into a beautiful, peaceful place.