The squat brick building on Venice Island opposite Manayunk’s Main Street has featured the same mural for more than 20 years — an idyllic landscape that celebrated the workers who once powered the neighborhood’s textile mills.
But in recent days, the public painting, originally commissioned by Mural Arts Philadelphia, was covered and replaced without advance notice for the local artist who created it or the community leaders who say the original was beloved by the runners and cyclists who traverse the canal’s towpath.
“I understand when I paint a mural in a city that it will disappear someday. I have no problem with that,” said artist Tish Ingersoll, who lives in Chestnut Hill. “In this case, nobody was told. And in some ways, I feel violated. How could they do that without contacting anybody?”
The new mural is a colorful promotion of the 76ers. A team representative said the organization did not commission the mural but agreed to the use of its logo after being approached by the artist working on behalf of the property owner.
“Prior to starting any public artwork projects, I place the responsibility of obtaining the proper city/neighborhood permits, permission, etc. on the client and/or property owner,” artist Jimmy McMenamin of Glossblack LLC said. “I began work on this project under the impression that all parties that needed to be aware, knew and supported the mural installation. Once started, I quickly found out that was not the case and there must have been confusion between those parties, which is very unfortunate.”
Property records show the building has been owned by the Giovannone family of Lafayette Hill since 1968. However, Gwen McCauley, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, said that the building changed hands recently and that the new owner might not have understood the role the original mural played in the community.
The new owner could not be reached for comment because property records do not yet show record of the sale.
Going forward, McCauley said she plans to seek deed restrictions designed to protect Manayunk’s murals. She’s also looking for a new spot for a fresh Ingersoll painting along the towpath.
“Nothing will fix what happened here,” McCauley said. “We’re trying to find a resolution.”
When Ingersoll designed the original mural in 1999, she said, she visited Wilde Yarn Mill to observe the workers. The facility was the oldest continually operating yarn mill in the country when it closed in 2012. She also cited painter Diego Rivera as her inspiration for the work’s style.
Ingersoll said she learned the mural was being covered up when she saw photos of the new one in progress on Facebook. The support she’s received in recent days from Manayunk residents who share her frustration and disappointment has been a “nice consolation prize.”
“To have people reach out and say how much they love my mural, that’s all you can hope for as an artist,” Ingersoll said. “It’s nice to have that recognition on occasion.”
This isn’t the first time a Philadelphia developer has covered or destroyed beloved public art.
Last year, a mural of queer activist Gloria Casarez outside the old 12th Street Gym was whitewashed unexpectedly, and a mural of John Coltrane on a Strawberry Mansion rowhouse was obscured by a new apartment building. Replacing a mural without giving the original artist a heads-up shouldn’t happen, said Jane Golden, Mural Arts’ founder and executive director.
“While we know murals come and go, we work hard to notify artists and communities when we hear of one going away,” Golden said.
“There is a moral code that guides our work, and part of that code is trying to be a force for good as it relates to working with artists,” she added. “Therefore we believe that it is not OK to paint over someone else’s work without informing them.”