The Star: Family Fabric

Aug 15, 2016

"This is family," said artist Brad Carney about the 'Welcome to Fishtown' mural that he cocreated with local artist Jeffro Kilpatrick.

On Saturday, March 26, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, New Kensington Community Development Corporation, and the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU) invited River Wards residents to come together and paint a part of their history - the winning mural voted upon by locals in October 2015 to replace graffiti art on the side of the family-owned and operated repair shop, AC Auto Repairs. 2300 Frankford Ave. 

"I lived here for 10 years, and the neighborhood has changed since I stepped foot here 10 years ago," Carney said. "The mural represents that whole ten-year change. And I wanted to make sure it was about family, too, not just the artist." 

This mural is hardly Carney's first large-scale project: He has worked on about 100 murals across the city and teaches a mural arts education after-school program at Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

"I lived right down the street," Carney said. "I stared at that wall, this building, waiting to see what would happen. I'm really happy a credit union came in because they help the neighborhood. Plus they kept the building original and pristine." 

Thanks to the PFCU commissioning the project, more than 20 PFCU employees and numerous community members and volunteers came out to paint pieces of the mural that will be dedicated and unveiled at a ceremony on Saturday, May 21.

"After we set up shop, we started a two-year initiative that we collaborated with the Mural Arts program on," said Jill Dembinski, PFCU Fishtown branch manager. "We really wanted to make our place here in Fishtown.    

The whole theme of the mural and the idea that we are a community-centered financial institution works well together."

The mural will connect the credit union's building to the bustling Frankford Avenue, according to Leslie Lodwick, Project Manager at the Mural Arts Program. Lodwick works with artists and community members to come up with mural projects and brings them to life — from conception all the way to the installation process.

"This project is unlike anything we've done here because it's celebrating the arts in Fishtown, including real people in the mural who have lived here." Lodwick said.

Among the residents depicted in the mural who helped shape the neighborhood and who residents know and love is Paul Malvey. Malvey passed away four years ago and is described simply as a "tree man" by those who knew and loved him.

"He was a tree man his whole life," said his sister, Marianne Yeager, who met with members of her family on Saturday at the paint day event. 

The family requested that portions of his depiction be reserved specifically for them to color in. Malvey's son and only grandson were present to paint his face, pants, and boots as he is shown planting a small tree in the mural. 

"To see the revitalization of Frankford Avenue would be really cool to him," Yeager said. "He worked on it in the beginning when it was nothing, so this is special."

Malvey lived in Fishtown his whole life on Memphis Street, and safely removed some of the troublesome, gigantic trees in alleys, around fences, and around the neighborhood. 

He impacted not only the River Wards, but the entire city through his work at NKCDC and Fairmount Park Conservancy. 

Malvey was also friend to the mural's cocreator Kilpatrick. 

Kilpatrick, born and raised at Almond and Norris streets, was planning to use Malvey in an upcoming 'Faces of Fishtown' cartoon, but after winning the contest, it made sense to include Malvey in this work of art. 

"He was a horticulturist, but also a big friend of the arts," Kilpatrick said. "He was a great guy." 

The two artists behind the mural created a list of people they thought needed to be included in the mural based on a mix of arts and craftsman throughout the history of the neighborhood including everyone from renowned guitarists, to older women sewing baseballs, Kilpatrick said.

It took a few months to put everything together, as this was Kilpatrick's first involvement with a mural, but using Carney's mural-making experience, and Kilpatrick's knowledge of the neighborhood and artistry, the two artists brought to life decades of Fishtown's history. 

Kilpatrick also brought a knowledge of art to the mural canvas: he teaches art at Memphis Street Academy Charter School, and has created sketches and comics, some of which appeared in local newspapers.

The mural is definitely in the running as Kilpatrick's magnum opus.

"I generally work small, so this is definitely the biggest thing I'm leaving behind in the neighborhood, which is really cool." 

– Written by Mary Elizabeth Sullivan for The Star

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