Painting commences for West Chelten Avenue mural project

Friends of the Mt. Airy Art Garage, Germantown and the Mural Arts Program gathered in the Art Garage’s half-completed space on Saturday afternoon for the inaugural community paint session on the mural slated for the wall at 310 W. Chelten Avenue.

Art Garage President and co-founder Linda Slodki and lead muralist Jon Laidacker were on hand to give a warm welcome to about 30 participants of all ages for the two-hour session.

Many participants in Saturday’s paint session were already members of the Garage, at which two large, ADA-compliant bathrooms have appeared, and the partitions of resident artist studios will soon line the space.

An organized session

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Instead of being painted on the wall, the mural is being painted on large sheets of non-woven polyester fiber, a rust-colored paper-like material called parachute cloth.

With the whole design of the mural split into sections about 10-feet long and of varying width, a simple under-painting will be followed by detailed studio work. After the whole image is assembled and mounted on the wall, a coat of sealant will preserve it for the outdoors.

Art Garage painters were applying the under-painting via a large-scale paint-by-numbers system devised by Laidacker, who also mixed and numbered dozens of containers of acrylic paint.

“No artistic talent required,” Slodki assured participants who worried that their skills weren’t up to snuff to contribute to the mural.

A wide array of painters

Participants varied in age from young children to the elderly. They were able to note a section of the mural delineated and numbered with white chalk, grab a paint brush and paint dish with the corresponding number, and get to work.

“What do I have in my closet that I that I don’t really like?” mused Mt. Airy resident Mary Mark-Ockerbloom before coming with her 9-year-old daughter Anne to the paint day.

Showing the well-spattered state of his own shirt, Laidacker warned participants that the acrylic paint won’t wash out. Mark-Ockerbloom settled on an old turtleneck, but others took a more protective approach and availed themselves of large plastic aprons.

One mother donned hers and fashioned her young son’s into a kind of poncho.

“Mine’s an apron, yours is a bat-cape,” she assured him.

“I am having so much fun, you have no idea,” says self-described “friend of Mt. Airy” Pat Loudis, who brought her young niece along. Loudis isn’t an artist, but she enjoyed working on the mural as “part of being in the community.”

“It’s a great thing for the neighborhood,” Mark-Ockerbloom said of activities at the Garage.

Another painter swept her brush over Laidacker’s chalk number with relish.”We’re covering up the evidence so we look like the real artists,” she joked.

Early reviews

According to Laidacker, the mural’s design has not been met with wholly positive reviews, but he never expected that any one design could please everyone in the community.

One controversial part of the mural is the far left piece, which will be close to the sidewalk of Chelten Avenue. In an unusual visual twist — some called it a “mural-in-a-mural” — the piece’s design shows painted figures working on a mural, including the image of a large mechanical lift.

Some people argued that it would give an unfinished feeling to the final design. Laidacker says that’s the point, as the mural is supposed to be a permanent depiction of Germantown residents “working together to build something,” he noted.

“I want that trompe l’oeil pop as people pass by on the sidewalk,” he added.

Laidacker was pleasantly surprised when Art Garage painters completed six of the 10 pieces he’d brought of the mural. He calls the upcoming work at his studio to add details to the community’s under-painting “icing on the cake.”

More community paint days are in the works, but specific dates have not yet been determined.

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