When Sandy Kessler Kaminski applied to The Sprout Fund’s public art program in 2003, she had never considered painting a mural. As an artist and a billboard illustrator, she had experience with painting on a large scale, but had never worked on a public art project. Since her first mural in Millvale that year, Sandy has painted seven murals throughout Pittsburgh, each one closely tied to the community in which she painted it. For the past two summers, she has worked with The Sprout Fund to restore five murals that needed care:
- A Day in the Park by Kenneth Tator (The Pittsburgh Project in Perry South)
- Birds Eye View by Kristin Williams (South Braddock & Hutchinson Avenues in Regent Square)
- Bridging the Generations of Bloomfield by Monika McAndrew (Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield)
- Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Brian Holderman (Liberty Avenue Downtown)
- All in a Day by Monique Luck and Leslie Ansley (Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill)
Sprout sat down with Sandy to talk about her restoration work, the impact of murals, and the importance of public art maintenance.
How did the restoration process start?
I drove around and took pictures of all of the Sprout murals…to document and figure out what needs to be restored. How to take care of it. There’s some that the buildings themselves are falling down, which is kind of upsetting to see, but that’s the nature of it.
Did people walking by react when they saw you working on the murals?
Yes. People walk by and take note because the mural is part of their identity. People stop by and say “Oh, I’m so glad you’re fixing this, it means so much. I love looking at it.” As I made progress, people would say that they loved to watch how I fixed it or how it was repaired. At the mural downtown, I had two little old ladies who were doing their little walk, who stopped me to say, “Oh, we’re so happy you’re doing this!” In Squirrel Hill, some people even bought me a coffee!
This happened especially in Regent Square, because it is a pedestrian spot, and a pedestrian community. At that mural, the original artist, Kristin Williams, was doing the restoration and she really enjoyed all the neighborhood people coming up and talking to her and reliving when the mural was originally painted.
And then The Pittsburgh Project is special to me because I work there as a visual arts instructor. We have a lot of kids that walk by, because it’s a neighborhood spot. One of the parts of that mural was lost when they replaced a door to the building, and since I am connected to that community, I know some of the dynamics of the community have changed in the eleven years since the original mural was painted by Ken Tator. For instance, there are more Spanish-speaking people in the neighborhood, and one of the parents had come up and said, “I wish they had somebody that looked like us in the mural,” so I painted in one of the girls from The Pittsburgh Project on that door. So that mural was a lot of fun to do. It’s also The Pittsburgh Project’s thirty year anniversary this year, so it was really good timing.
What impact do murals have on communities?
Public art and murals have a huge impact on communities. To think that there’s someone that would invest in something to make their community look better, more attractive, it’s a boost. It also is a way for communities to identify themselves and see where they’re at in the grand scheme of things and a way for people to think beyond their everyday existence. For me, it was a gateway to a more community-service oriented life. Being aware of how to work within a community. I would never become the visual arts instructor at The Pittsburgh Project had I not worked with communities on public art projects.
Why is maintenance of public art important?
If you’re a successful, thriving community, then you have public art and you maintain public art. It just kind of goes with being successful. Maintenance is extremely important. Sprout’s continuing maintenance of their work is them being a good steward – that’s good. And it kind of sets the standard for anybody else coming after them.