Proposed Wissahickon mural aims to show local balance between urban and natural environments

Wissahickon residents might soon see one of Philadelphia’s newest murals take shape at the neighborhood’s regional rail station with help from community volunteers and students at Cook-Wissahickon School.

Sarah Sequin, Janis Chakars and Jose Ramos, point people for the project and a sort of ad hoc mural planning group, recently submitted an application for the proposed mural to Mural Arts and expect a decision from the organization by Jan. 16.

“There is a great deal of enthusiasm for the project in the neighborhood,” said Sequin. “We received unanimous support for our proposal at the November WICA meeting.”

If Mural Arts approves the group’s proposal, the mural will fill 2,200 square feet of a retaining wall running along the outbound platform of the Wissahickon Regional Rail station. SEPTA has also expressed its support for the project and provided a letter of recommendation, which the group included in its application.

The design for the mural will take its title and inspiration from the essay “Morning on the Wissahickon,” in which the author states:

“Now the Wissahiccon (sic) is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue, if, indeed, its banks were not parceled off in lots, at an exorbitant price, as building-sites.”

Edgar Allen Poe wrote those lines in 1850, but Sequin and her companions feel his declaration captures something essential about the neighborhood and its history that still holds true today.

“The train station is for many people still a gateway to Wissahickon Creek and Fairmount Park. People love this neighborhood for the balance it strikes between urban and natural environments,” said Sequin.

The story

The original idea for a Wissahickon mural came from Chip Roller. Roller was acting vice president of WICA at the time that SEPTA initially announced plans to renovate the Wissahickon Regional Rail station. Members of WICA felt that the renovations provided a great opportunity to get community support behind other neighborhood beautification projects. 

After an initial application to Mural Arts was rejected, and with the station renovations moving ahead, WICA received notice from Mural Arts that it would consider a re-submission including plans for greater community involvement in the process.

When it was announced that the organization would be re-submitting an application for the proposed mural, Jose Ramos and Janis Chakars asked to be part of the mural planning group.

Ramos is a literacy instructor for the seventh and eighth gradea at Cook-Wissahickon School and a member of the Cook-Wissahickon Sustainability Council, while Janis Chakars is the parent of a Cook-Wissahickon student.

With their help, the proposed mural has now been incorporated into plans seeking to integrate the arts into the curriculum at Cook-Wissahickon School.

A commitment

The details of student involvement in the creation of the mural are pending the support of the Mural Arts Program for the project. However, the proposed mural’s focus on the Wissahickon neighborhood’s history as a place where the natural and built environments can be seen to meet overlaps with the school’s already existing commitment to sustainability.

“Our vision for the mural will involve another key institution in the neighborhood, Cook-Wissahickon School,” says the group’s application. “This K-8 public school has received awards for its efforts and fostering environmental sustainability and learning.

“This is exemplified by the meadow in front of the school that serves as a habitat for native plants and animals as well as an outdoor classroom, and by its participation in a grant-funded watershed education program. The mural, also including native plants, animals and the creek, can help extend this curriculum.”

The group’s commitment to their theme extends even into the plans for the mural’s composition, which would involve combining natural and manufactured found items with the more traditional paint.

As the application further explains, “Most murals are made of paint. This mural could be much more. The theme of the mural is the interplay of the built and natural environment with attention to the train station location. The mural should express that with more than just paint. For instance, some live plants already exist in a bed just in front of the wall. These can be used as part of the mural. Other manufactured elements can be added as well such as tile, metal, glass, or stone. The mural should be texture rich and grow out from the wall. It should combine the manufactured and the organic.”

Looking forward

There is as of now no timeline for the completion of the mural, as the planning group is waiting for further instruction from the Mural Arts Program, pending the organization’s approval of their application.

Nevertheless, as the group states in its application, “Upon approval, we will set forth a plan and schedule and communicate that plan clearly to the community. We will promptly ask community members to confirm their participation in meetings and/or community paint days and follow up with them regularly to keep them engaged and invested in the process.”

Once the mural project is underway, community planning meetings will also take place on evenings and weekends at Northern Children’s Services.

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