A Mural in Waverly

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A colorful cartoonish mural recently completed at the landmark intersection of Greenmount and 33rd Street may be among the last commissioned by the City of Baltimore.

Over two steamy summer months, dozens of volunteer artists helped paint a design by cartoonist and writer Tom Chalkley.

Full disclosure: Chalkley is a long-time friend and cartoonist-in-residence at Welcome To Baltimore, Hon!

The 485-square-foot mural depicts a “slightly idealized” vision of Waverly Village. It features a parade, the farmers’ market, a circle of friends playing music, a mother reading to her two children at the library, community activists, and the new Waverly playground.

“I always got a big kick out of Waverly,” says Chalkley, who resided in the community from 1988 to 1993. “It’s a colorful and noisy and a very stimulating environment. It’s very funky, it’s ethnically diverse, [with] interesting little shops and odd architecture. We made allusions to all those things in the picture.”

The mural was painted over a two-month period that was beset by a wall that needed more scraping and preparation than planned, days of 100-degree temperatures, thunderstorms, at least one car fire, and various other unanticipated events.

“This is not at all what I was expecting in terms of the arduousness of it all,” Chalkley said one sweltering afternoon.

Chalkley began the project by drawing a cartoon in Photoshop with grid lines representing one inch to two feet. The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and local community groups reviewed and approved the proposed artwork.

After the wall was scraped and primed, the grid lines were laid out and the cartoon sketched in pencil. The wall is painted in latex exterior house paint that has been formulated for murals, tinted by hand with a mix of colors.

Depending on sun exposure, wall preparation, and other factors, a mural can last from five to 25 years, according to Shawn James, community arts coordinator in the city’s Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Public support for large-scale murals can be traced to Philadelphia in the 1970s, when civic leaders discovered that colorful public art is an effective deterrent to graffiti and vandalism.

Graffiti artists and taggers rarely deface murals. “There’s an unspoken respect between graffiti artists and mural artists,” says James, who is trained as a photographer and mural artist.

“Once a mural goes up, nine times out of ten the graffiti stops,” he says. “I’ve seen it many, many times. You take a heavily graffitied wall and put a mural on it, the graffiti goes away.”

The City of Baltimore has commissioned at least 120 murals since the program began in 1987 (see below for a Google Map of Baltimore murals). Philadelphia boasts more than 3,000 murals.

According to James, the average Baltimore mural is about 1,200 to 1,400 square feet and with a budget of $10-12,000 to cover manpower, materials and scaffolding.

Despite the success of a program that beautifies neighborhoods and prevents vandalism, budgetary cuts have pulled the plug on the program. James says he was told that city would not be accepting any more grants.

“The city decided to cut the funding for the Baltimore mural program,” says James. “The Office of Promotion and the Arts is going into a different direction.”

James says that he will continue to paint and coordinate murals for community groups and corporate sponsors through his own company.

“One of the best parts of my job with the Office of Promotion and the Arts was the fact that I was employing artists,” he says. “To help beautiful the infrastructure of the city while employing artists is a great feeling, which is something I hope to continue.”

This year, in what may be the last of the program, Office of Promotion and the Arts commissioned nine murals – more than in any other year.

“They wanted to go out with a bang,” says Chalkley.

Murals in Baltimore

View Baltimore City Mural Program in a larger map

A contributor to City Paper virtually since its inception, Chalkley’s distinctive visual and written work is seen in publications everywhere. He has published several volumes of comics featuring his work and that of other local artists. Chalkley also teaches cartooning at the Johns Hopkins University Art Workshops.

Aside from designing the WTBH marble step logo, Chalkley produced a Cartoon Map of Baltimore that features 176 present and historical figures, which has been digitized and linked to encyclopedic biographical information. A full-color 24” by 36” poster of the Cartoon Map is also available.

Two paid assistants worked with Chalkley on the Waverly Village mural; self-described “highway artist” Kenneth Clemons and house painter Greg Gannon, a graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art.

West Baltimore resident Clemons is an art student at Community College of Baltimore County.

Gannon moved to the Waverly neighborhood from the county about a year ago. “I’m excited about contributing something to the community,” he says. “It’s the friendliest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.”

Nearly 40 volunteer artists were recruited to work on the project through Facebook and word-of-mouth. Volunteers ranged from neuroscience students from nearby Johns Hopkins to neighborhood graffiti artists.

“I’m more adequate with a spray can than a brush, but it’s not that hard,” says Westley Singletary, 19, who plans to pursue a career in computer animation.

Working on the mural is “pretty good experience, and a lot better to do something legally,” he says.

The end result is a collaborative artistic effort that retains creative input from every person involved in the mural.

“I am the artist of the original design, but it is very much a community mural,” Chalkley explains. “There’s no way I could control the entire project. I’ve been surprised by a few things, like a choice of paint colors, but just rolled with it.”

Volunteer artists who worked on the mural include Oth Aphone, Anna Cha, David Chalkley, Mark Chalkley, Karen Chan, Kelly Chuang, Jocelyn Durkay, Robert J. Friedman, Rigshana Giffin, Phillip Goldfarb, Angela Green, Karam Han, Renee Hopkins, Brooke Katz, Chelsey Keys, Sierra Keys, Valerie Keys, Sharon Kim, Yejin Kim, Sarah Lesperance, Sandee Lippman, Rebecca Mathias, Caitlin Murray, Eric A. Nelson, Kevin O’Reilly, David Pugh, John L. Quinn, Aliyah Sanders, Nicole Schultheis, Westley Singletary, and Krystina Whitesell.

About the videos: The music video was recorded over a two month period, and features the song “Flying Colors” by the Ellicott City-based band King Lewman.

An extended video of the car fire received more than 26,000 views in 24 hours at LiveLeak.com.

Here is Tom Chalkley discussing the Wavery Village mural at the beginning of the project:

And here he is at the end:

About the author

WTBH founder and editor Bruce Goldfarb has written for Baltimore magazine, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and numerous other publications. He has also done eight books that you've never read.

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