Art Department studies Manayunk murals

Students in the Art Portfolio: 2D & Digital* class on their art walk in Manayunk, September 27, 2023 – Ms. Kristin Brown

Fifth and Sixth Formers in the 2D, Digital Portfolio, and Digital Art II classes recently traveled to Manayunk. They studied public forms of art ahead of the Manayunk Art Festival. With lights strung up to prepare for the evening, the group saw everything from bold murals along bridges to colorful flowers under archways. What does art look like in a small town like Manayunk?

For starters, the group defined public art as any form of art that can be seen by the public. They walked by the canal, observing murals along the way. The group analyzed the placement, theme, and artistic resonance each mural had with Philadelphia. Some murals were large and intricately detailed with traditional paints, while others were smaller, simpler landscapes or even spray painted. Manayunk hid art in dozens of places, blending the buildings with the environment and decorating the drab stone walls with color.

The group examined the vibrancy provided by the art. Each mural, while usually disconnected from the rest, shared a collective history in Manayunk and served as a notable landmark. Some were commissioned by building owners, while others were from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. One well-known landmark the group passed was a 15-foot-tall pink flamingo statue on Main Street, commissioned by the owners of the ice cream shop Chloe’s Corner.

However, town controversy arose due to limited space. Some murals were painted over: an example is the mural over the canal by Tish Ingersoll, which was partially covered by a new Philadelphia 76ers mural.  

“I often drive by a lot of murals, but it was nice to stop and get a chance to take them in.”

Tate Conklin ’24

Some students in the group agreed that the new mural brought freshness to the canal. However, since the artist was not informed that the mural was being taken down, the group was conflicted. It quickly became hard to pinpoint how much to preserve public art, but it mostly came down to relevancy within the community and the people involved. 

Sixth Former Samuel Jiru said that the situation “brought up a good debate over who has ownership of art. Does ownership belong to the artist or to the owners of the actual space?”

Upon their return, the students reverse image searched and researched some of the murals. Sixth Former Tate Conklin reflected on a mural called “Sandy’s Dream” by Ann Northrup, dedicated to the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation to raise cancer awareness. In his reflection, Tate described the mural’s beautiful and towering landscape, contrasting the sky’s reflection off the water with the mountains and people. 

“I often drive by a lot of murals,” Conklin said, “but it was nice to stop and get a chance to take them in.”

Ms. Kristin Brown’s class poses on its art walk – courtesy of Ms. Kristin Brown

Digital Art teacher Ms. Kristin Brown used the trip to ask her students about art at Haverford. 

“I wanted students to think about what public art is, what it looks like, and how we can recreate that on campus,” Ms. Brown said. 

Art in Manayunk played a role in the region’s revitalization, representing many people and artists and sparking communal joy. Moments like these allow us to look at the constants in our community and appreciate what we have, but also let us think about what footprints we leave behind in the world around us.