Tagged: Art

Painting a Community Mural: Q&A with KellySue Fitzharris

Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, a great friend of the Ampersand, has partnered with the Mural Arts Program to create a mural on a wall of the Center’s South Philly campus. There was a community paint day this past Saturday, and my wife Gen and I headed over to check it out. We thought we’d be up on ladders, but the process is, thankfully, a lot easier and safer. The artist behind the mural, Delia King, drew the outline of the shapes in the mural with a black marker on huge panels of fabric and numbered all the sections. About 140 volunteers showed up to “paint by number.” Delia will clean it up a bit and the panels will then be rolled onto the wall. Here’s a shot of the process:


It’ll look something like this digital mock-up:


St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, where the Center is based, is home to an extremely diverse community of Catholics, including folks who are Vietnamese, Indonesian, Latino, Filipino, Anglo, and more. Fabric patterns from the different cultures come together to compose the mural. Delia talks about the process in an interview here.

One of the first painters we saw when we arrived was our friend KellySue Fitzharris. Kelly lives in Blackwood and teaches Spanish and religion at St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights. She’s all-around fantastic. We joined her at the panel she was working on and caught up.


After the day, I shot Kelly a few questions about her experience.

Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?

A: Well, aside from the overall coolness of participating in painting an inner city mural which I had never done before, I think the idea of partaking in a creative effort among various cultures to beautify and unite the community was just awesome.

Q: Meet any inspiring people?

A: YES! One young adult who I was painting with had recently returned from two years in China with the Peace Corps. She was stationed in a super rural part of the country and chose to live there with only one fellow Peace Corps volunteer so as to immerse herself more fully in the culture. Being passionate about other cultures myself, I thought her intentions and experiences sounded inspiring!

Q: Did anything surprise you about the painting process?
A: I was surprised at how simple it was! The Mural Arts Program makes it so that even children and first-time artists can paint and it looks great. It was also cool that [Delia King] was there, walking from table to table, helping us, explaining, just being very approachable and seemed so happy to be able to prepare the mural for us.

Q: What is the coolest thing about a mural at Aquinas Center?

A: Well, the mural itself is vibrantly colorful and beautiful with various symbols of the distinct cultures that make up the surrounding community. It has many coolness factors: It is rich and loud, delicate and deep.  I think it will fill the onlooker with awe and intrigue, hopefully draw in the passerby and continue to stand as a sign of the beautiful paradox of cultural diversity and unity, a little beacon hope and light right there in South Philly.

Wednesday Round-Up, Oscars Edition: 5 Great Life & Justice Films

With the Academy Awards just four days away, today’s Round-Up presents five must-see films that can serve as leaven to our life & justice efforts.

While classics like Romero, Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story, and Bella are all worth watching again and again, the hope for this list is for you to find at least one thing you haven’t yet seen!

And please add your favorites in the comments section.

1) The Lives of Others (2006)

Set in East Berlin in 1984, The Lives of Others examines the power beauty and art can wield against oppression. It beat out the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Oscars. This post is hardly the first Catholic outlet to rate it highly; check out this essay in First Things.

2) Of Gods and Men (2010)

Sticking with the theme of courage in the midst of oppression, Of Gods and Men tells the story of French Trappists living in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Tibhirine, Algeria. As violent fundamentalism spreads, the monks have to decide whether to evacuate or stay behind with the community that had grown to depend on them for immediate needs. The film is the most poignant depiction of community life I have ever seen. Rev. Jim Martin, SJ, reflected on why it’s his favorite spiritual film for PBS, found here.

3) Urbanized (2011)

I stumbled upon this on Netflix, fortuitously — it’s a fascinating documentary about the way smart urban design development can combat poverty, protect the environment, and create beauty in the world.

4) Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

When the work to protect life and promote justice is tiresome, there’s no better way to find new life than with some rejuvenating art. And not much art rejuvenates (literally “makes young again”) like Wes Anderson’s fanciful, stop-motion treatment of this beloved Roald Dahl novella. While renewing your spirit, it includes some great “Mystical Body of Christ” scenes: to overcome the movie’s central conflict, each protagonist must use his or her gifts for the common good.

5) Friday Night Lights television series (2006-2011)

We’re living in a Golden Age of Television, with groundbreaking dramas coming out every year, it seems: Mad Men, Lost, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, Homeland, The West Wing and more. There are far many quality TV shows out now than there are cinematic features. So I’ll make an exception to this Oscars round-up and include Friday Night Lights, which my wife and I are moving through right now. There is no better marriage depiction in mass media than that of football coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami. There is no more compelling look at the sacredness of human life and the role of fathers than in a plotline in seasons 2 and 3. There is no more evocative exploration of how sports can build character in the midst of socioeconomic and racial turmoil. Not to mention the best baptism symbolism I’ve ever seen (Season 2, Episode 5 if you don’t believe me). Really, just watch it.

Ampersand Podcast: A Conversation with Br. Mickey McGrath

Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, is a world-renowned artist living and working in Camden. I stopped by his studio near Sacred Heart Church in the Waterfront South neighborhood to ask him about his art, his decision to move to Camden four years ago, the role of art in the pursuit of justice, and a current exhibition at Rutgers called “Visions of Camden,” which features his work.

The original plan was to transcribe the interview, but his passion, faith and humor come through so well that I decided to post it here as a podcast. If you can forgive the amateurish quality of the technology and interviewer, it’s worth a listen!

Brother Mickey describes how he came to Camden at the invitation of Fr. Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, who offered him studio space. A previously unoccupied house was remodeled and transformed into a mini gallery and workspace.

brother mickey in studio

Brother Mickey’s studio is on the second floor of a converted row home on Jasper Street.

Searching for and creating beauty in a city in need of it, he has been inspired by those who work to make Camden a better place:

“I see so much good going on: like the Romero Center, Hopeworks. Right here at Sacred Heart – the Center for Transformation. Up at the Cathedral where three parishes have been merged together and the fact that they give out at least 450-500 sandwiches everyday. It’s just kind of amazing, the goodness of people who are out there trying to do good things and create beauty. And my way of adding to that beauty is through paint,” Mickey says.

“I have a deeper sense of ministry in terms of my artistic vocation than I have ever had before.”

A mural at the corner of Jasper and 4th, just down the block from the studio.

A mural at the corner of Jasper and 4th, just down the block from the studio.

In addition to painting his famous religious images, Brother Mickey has sketched the city since he arrived, inspired by the neighborhoods and people he encounters, especially on early-morning walks.

Many of these urban pieces are featured in the current “Visions of Camden” exhibition at Rutgers-Camden, which is open until March.

In the podcast, Mickey describes some of the memorable Camden moments that made their way into his art, including this image of a woman bringing her grandson to school at Sacred Heart in her motorized wheelchair, with his arms outstretched “like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.” It’s moments like these, he said, that give him hope for the city.

Sketch 2012-11-01 16_59_36“Visions of Camden” is open through February 28 at Rutgers-Camden’s Stedman Gallery. The Stedman Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Complex on Third Street, between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on the Rutgers-Camden campus.  Admission is free to the gallery, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.