We Sit on the Shoulders of People Made of Steel

The Welcome to Phoenixville Mural tells a story of our past that helps close the divide in our town of old vs. new. Whether you are newly planted in town or have been here for generations, we can all connect over our towns beginnings. We all feel the pride of the numerous rebirths this town has had. We sit on the shoulders of people made of steel.

Almost 10 years ago, my family moved to Phoenixville because we liked its energy, its downtown area, and the incredible view of the town from our Northside home. Phoenixville had already begun its renaissance, but it was still in its early transition when we came here. I had no idea that over time, Phoenixville would become my hometown, and its people my family.

I grew up in an industrial city in upstate NY. We lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in close proximity to Kodak Park's manufacturing facility. While we knew our direct neighbors, a sense of community was not strong, nor was it valued. The idea of living in a small town had never been appealing to me...a product of city-living my whole life.

It was a surprise to find out how important community became for me when I began experiencing it here in Phoenixville. It sounds so cliche to say "You can't go 10 feet without running into someone you know..." but that's what it's like here in town.....and I couldn't love it more.

Our town is accepting, our town is opinionated, our town cares...our town really, really cares about parking. Our town has a million stories...some about now, so many about the past. Eating at the Trio watching the red hot beams come out, riding the circuit on a Friday night, Zepps, the Dogwood Parade, and date nights at the Gateway. I didn't grow up here, but I was meant to end up here.

In 2014, I was asked to paint a mural on a building that stood at the entrance of our town. I declined. I had never created a mural before and I was scared as hell at the prospect - what if I fucked up? What if people hated it? I was asked again. I thought about it, and I declined again. Finally, a friend called me up and asked what it would take to do the project. I asked myself "What if I didn't fail?". The answer was that my then 4 and 5-year-old boys would get to drive by a mural 20 years from now knowing that their mom created this mural...even though she had never done anything like it before. They would know that I said yes, that I overcame my fears, and figured it out. All the things we tell our kids to do. I knew I had to try.

It didn't take long for me to figure out what I wanted to paint. I knew that the town was changing, new buildings were going up, the community was rapidly growing and there was an undercurrent of old vs. new flowing through town. If I could create an anchor that everyone could connect to, something true, it could help everyone come together through that shared commonality. Our foundation, built from steel could not be denied. It took a year to plan and 30 straight days of painting...and the Welcome to Phoenixville Mural was born.

A few weeks ago, I found out while scrolling social media, that much of the mural would be hidden behind a large open-air structure that a neighboring business decided to build to expand outdoor seating. My community has weighed in, and the two camps are this:

Businesses need to do everything they can right now to stay in business. It's not all hidden...you can still see the top of the mural.

Community art should be protected because it is important in ways that can't be measured. There could have been a compromise on the building plan to ensure the mural would be preserved.

I've been absorbing people's comments and assessing my own thoughts about the decision to conceal much of the mural in exchange for more outdoor seating, and here is where I stand.

Brene Brown often says that we are a meaning-seeking species....we crave meaning and connection. As an artist, my job is to create art that creates meaning for people. The mural symbolizes who we are, it welcomes new visitors and welcomes home residents. The 20-foot pergola constructed in front of the mural has severed that connection for viewers. Just as songs need to be played and heard to be truly felt and understood, art needs to be seen, in its entirety to be felt and understood.

I am disappointed and saddened that countless people have lost that connection and so many future viewers will no longer be offered the opportunity to connect to our town in that way. We need to do better to protect the things that create meaning and connection for people...because those are the things that people remember most.

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