PHILADELPHIA Lisa Pilli brought her daughter, Francesca, and a friend all the way from a small town near Atlantic City to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Broad Street Sunday to be part of the latest project of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
They came, along with dozens of others, to help paint a portion of two enormous murals that will grace walls on both sides of the Schuylkill at the Girard Avenue Bridge in the spring.
The murals will pay homage to two of Philadelphia's most iconic themes - rowing and the art of Thomas Eakins, a painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"I would love to bring this [program] to Atlantic City. Why not make it more beautiful?" Pilli asked. "I love that there is community involvement."
The Mural Arts Program has created hundreds of wall paintings, but few deal with subjects quite so beloved as rowing and Eakins. The first of the murals to go up, on the east side of the Schuylkill in April, will depict rowers in a single boat, each in period dress, spanning Eakins' time as an artist and faculty member at PAFA to the present. A woman rowing on the far right of the picture represents the latest generation.
The second mural, a project to go up in May on the Schuylkill's west bank, offers a more conventional rowing scene against a backdrop of Center City office towers, themselves ringed in a bucolic parklike setting.
Both borrow images from Eakins' own rowing scenes.
Each mural will be 20 feet high and will span 100 feet. The design was created by Jon Laidacker, who earned his master's at PAFA and who with a team of other PAFA graduates is executing the incredibly complex process of transferring his concept to 4,000 square feet of wall space with the help of volunteer painters.
After painting the originals - Laidacker calls them designs - the images are blocked out into smaller, rectangular components to match specific spots on walls at both sides of the Girard Avenue Bridge.
Digital images of these parts of the design then are projected onto large bolts of parachute cloth on which Laidacker and his team trace the design. Various spots on the canvas are assigned numbers that correspond to colors that match Laidacker's original painting.
Then volunteers such as Pilli, her daughter, and friend, in addition to dozens of others, literally paint by numbers.
When it is all done, the separate pieces will be glued onto the walls and covered with an acrylic surface to protect against weather.
"I think just being part of a project that involves so many people working toward a common goal is rewarding," said Laidacker, 32, who lives in the Graduate Hospital area with his wife and young daughter. "As an artist, I am not working in a vacuum . . . working in a studio alone."
"The value is doing something where you give people a chance to paint, and it causes them to have a better understanding of what art is," said Thomas Walton, another artist and PAFA graduate working with Laidacker on the project. "It opens up a more experiential approach."
Also working on the project were Walton's wife, Laura Velez, and another assistant, Charles Newman.
Business figure Tony Schneider and his wife, Pam, funded the murals with $85,000 from their PTS Foundation, mural arts executive director Jane Golden said. Schneider approached Golden with the idea for the project, and Golden found the site and then organized the project, she said.
"I am a wall hunter," she said.
That any one proposal would find its way to completion is an achievement in itself, as demand is so great. Golden says the mural program, which has a full-time staff of 48 and is funded in part by the city and through private fund-raising, has a waiting list of thousands of proposed projects. In all, some 200 artists are engaged to work on mural projects each year, Golden said. In the meantime, the city's image has been burnished, she said.
"It is great for Philadelphia that we've become known all over the world as the city of murals," Golden said.