Thursday, June 20, 2013

Creating the East Waco mural design

Going from community meetings to mural design is like going from watching a play as a member of the audience to writing the play. It's a big jump. In our process, people who attend our community meetings get to choose themselves if they want to be on the design team. Usually we get ten to fifteen willing to commit the time. In Waco we got thirty-nine to sign-up. 39.

The telephone game

We crammed an oblong circle of chairs into an unused room at the back of the library. As an ice-breaker we played a game of telephone. It's that old parlor game where the first person whispers a message to the person next to them, and then they have to remember it and whisper it to the next and so on until the message has made it all the way around to the last person who stands up and shares aloud what they think they've heard. The message I started the game with was "Our mural will  be twice as good as any by Diego Rivera or Michelangelo." Often in telephone the message is completely garbled and meaningless by the time it gets back to the first person. That's why I was so impressed when the last person in our group stood up and said "The mural will be better than Leonardo DaVinci's." Sure a few of the facts were wrong but the main meaning of the message had survived, that being that our mural will be awesome.


During presentations at one of our design team meetings, one group made four lists in relation to the neighborhood. They were: Good, Bad, Fix, and Need. Under the Bad list one item caught our attention - Negative Billboards and how this affected people's perception of East Waco. Thinking about this I was reminded of Steven Powers' "Love Letter" project in Philadelphia where he made a series of hand painted billboards that pay homage to the tradition of sign painting. I shared this with the design team and then suggested that we try making our own signs of inspiration and community pride. We also looked the murals of Bernard Williams who often uses pictograms to create open ended narratives.

"Hold Tight" by Steve Powers

"Visitation Realization" by Bernard Williams

The week working with the design team was fruitful - lots and lots of material. Our job was to edit, translate and transform what we'd been given into a mural design in ... four days.

Design Team studio work

Design Team studio work

The architecture of the wall was divided into three distinct sections. The first seven feet up across the wall was divided into six framed panels. Above that were windows covered for many years with plywood. Above the windows another seven foot tall section that ran the entire length of the wall without any divisions.

Our solution was to keep the three wall areas intact and use different design approaches in each to tell East Waco's story. At the bottom (in the six framed panels) we decided to design a more or less straightforward series of historical and contemporary scenes with references to old Elm Ave., the Alpha Theater and Paul Quinn College. Above them, Catherine took on the task of creating thirty-six East Waco inspired pictograms that could fit into the old window frames. And at the top of the wall Ashley's job was to design an interlocking collage of signs inspired by our design teams' work and referencing some of the existing hand-painted ones we'd seen in the neighborhood.

Preliminary design for the East Waco mural

After getting the thumbs up on our initial draft from the design team and city, we began to put together the color study using a cut-paper collage technique. This is an ongoing process that tries to stay one step ahead of the painting going on outside. In the meantime, we primed the wall and transferred the line drawing so everything would be ready for community painting days.

Ashley in the library studio working on designs for hand painted signs

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