Last week was another landmark week for the Roc Paint team: we completed our second on-site mural, at the Frederick Douglass R-Center on South Ave. We were thrilled to welcome Sarah Rutherford, who led this program last year, back as a guest artist. Not only have we all missed working with her, but Sarah’s thoughtfulness in terms of mural conceptualization and attention to detail made her the perfect lead for this particularly meaningful project.
This mural focuses on Frederick Douglass, the center’s namesake, who once lived right on the site where the center now stands. An interesting fact about Douglass: along with his incredible legacy in the civil rights movement, he was also the most photographed man of the 19th Century. He understood the importance of crafting his own image- he was ahead of his time in this regard. Today, photography has become even more accessible with cell phones and social media and continues to serve us as we craft our public images. This mural covers both sides of the hallway, with the lenses of two cameras facing each other and symbolically tying together the rich history of this site with the modern day lives of the children who now frequent it. Our hope is that this mural will provide a teaching tool for the children of the center and School 12 in learning more about the incredible local history that helped to shape their city and our country.
Youth artist Nzinga was especially excited to have the chance to paint a portrait of Frederick Douglass, who is one of her families heroes. Read on for her reflections on this mural.
I liked seeing the piece come together, and the reactions of the staff and the children who attended the center. They were overall very pleased with how the walls turned out. It was fun to work with Sarah again. It felt like when I first entered the program last year. The ladders were definitely a challenge because I typically don’t like getting on ladders to reach up on walls.
Before we started painting, we went to the center to talk with the children about what we were going to paint on the walls and get some of their ideas. They were open about the idea and liked the photoshopped sketch that we put together. We also had them draw something that they use today that is a modern version of the past, as well as things that are important to them. The kids were very brilliant and funny. One of the children, Elijah, actually drew something a little unrelated, but it was still very good. It was a picture of a skyline that was melting like a candle. It was so creative, that Marina drew it on a canvas for the kids to paint when we went back to the Center.
To me, the overall concept of the mural means a past and present parallel. It pays homage to the history of Frederick Douglass’ farm, which was at the very site of the R Center. Frederick Douglass is very revered in my household, especially by my father. We have read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and had many discussions about him so I felt compelled to paint him the best I could.
It was interesting to have so many kids around while we were working. The children were very inquisitive and bold in their comments, in that they had a lot of comments about the mural, and even how we had paint on some of our clothes. I hope that they will like the mural, and that they will want to know more about Frederick Douglass and the historical connection between him and the South Ave. R-Center.
— Nzinga Muhammad
Part of the mural includes two frames that face each other. In the frame on the wall featuring the past, we painted the house the that Mr. Douglass lived in on this site, and in its mirroring frame on the “present-day” wall, we painted the center as it looks today. The kids at the center were excited to see the recognizable image of their center being painted on the wall. We were surprised at the number of kids we met who weren’t aware of that piece of their center’s history- that Douglass lived right where they now play- so by painting the correlation on the wall, we hope it will bring greater awareness to this amazing historical connection!
More images of the process……
Next week: Our final mural of the year, at the Flint Street R-Center. (Outside!) Stay tuned.