Feb 4, 2013

The Philadelphia Zoo Mural Project: From a Paintbrush to the Bush

by: Latanya Vicks

Other than a few school projects, my painting experience has been limited to finger and toenails. However, on Saturday, January 26, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and lend a hand in painting an 8,000 square-foot mural.

Ambitious, huh?

I actually painted only about 2 feet of the colorful piece at a Community Paint Day for the Philadelphia Zoo Mural but my tiny contribution felt big. Intertwining two legendary Philadelphia institutions – the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Zoo – the project will cover the Zoo’s Centennial District Intermodal Transportation Center, a massive parking structure to be completed this spring.

The first touch of the paintbrush brought anxiety but, fortunately, I found solace in knowing I wasn’t the only newbie there. Heather Jordan from Yardley, Pennsylvania, was also enjoying her first paint day. “It was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect…folks were really helpful and friendly and it was great experience.”  As I worked on the background, Heather was busy touching up the orangutan, a star creature in the design and the inspiration for this project.

Lead artist Eurhi Jones, a Philadelphia painter and sculptor, knew she was an artist from the womb. After pursuing classes at a community art center during her youth, she went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) where a class in animal drawing inspired her to take on this project.

“When I was in art school at the Pennsylvania Academy, my very favorite class which I took every semester I could was animal drawing. We would have animals come into the studio and we’d also take trips to the zoo. Our teacher Pat Traub would plunk us down in front of one animal and say “You sit with this animal, you don’t just go from animal to animal drawing a little bit, doodling; but you sit with that animal, you observe it, you watch it, you see how it moves, see how it sits, see how it does its thing for a couple hours. Draw it over and over and over again.”

Drawn to projects in wildlife and the environment, Jones had very fond memories of the zoo with her children and admires their work as a major conservationist entity. But what really made the Zoo mural her dream project was a drawing class experience with an orangutan and the project’s integration between people, art, environment, and animals – four elements very dear to her heart.

“When you’re just doing your thing in your studio, you can just please yourself. But sometimes it’s richer, actually all times it’s richer to see what people’s reaction is.”

Just painting my small piece of the project, I felt that same great sense of community and Philly pride. I experienced firsthand how public art draws people together and I can’t wait until the beauty of the Philadelphia Zoo Mural project is fully realized!

For more information, visit the project page here.

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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