The completed mural depicts the history of Spring Hill. (photos by Kelsey Shea)

by Lindsay Allen

What was once a  vacant and over grown lot at the corner of Damas and Homer streets is now the new home of a piece of public art that has resident stopping in their tracks.

In late September, The Spring Hill Civic League (SHCL) installed a wall with a mural that was designed by local artist Linda Wallen, who depicted the history of the German settlers of Spring Hill using mosaic tiles.

The corner of Homer and Damas before the lot was cleared and the wall was installed.
The corner of Homer and Damas before the lot was cleared and the wall was installed.

The project began when Wallen received a grant from The Charm Bracelet Project, a program sponsored by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh that funds projects that beautify the Northside.

After overcoming many obstacles with the city-owned lot at the well-traveled corner  and a year of work planning, designing, and creating the mural, the wall was finally completed last month.

Wallen is extremely happy with the results of the project and believes the wall has already become a focal point for the community.

“The day we put it up, I pulled up my camping chair and sat on the corner for three hours that evening to watch people react to the mural. There was a traffic jam all night at that intersection,” said Wallen. “People were jumping out of their cars, blocking traffic, screaming, ‘Wow,’ taking pictures. It made my year.”

Ben Soltesz, a board member at SHCL, believes the wall has completely transformed the area which was once an empty, overgrown lot at a major intersection, and he says the project has received nothing but praise all around.

Soltesz credited Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Wallen for the success of the project, and said that SHCL is in the preliminary planning stages for the future landscaping of the property. Both Wallen and Soltesz believe benches would be a nice addition to the parklet.

Visitors to the mural have mostly been Spring Hill residents, but Wallen has spoken with a handful of people from different neighborhoods of Pittsburgh who also came to admire the mural. There has been an outpour of support from residents who would like to help with the project and donate to the landscaping fund.

To create the mural, Wallen worked with local high school students for a year through an after-school program at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, located in the Chateau neighborhood of the Northside.

This wall, which stands 20 feet long and 4 feet wide, is the eighth mosaic created for the neighborhood by Wallen, and it has also required the most cooperative effort. Wallen credits the founder of the Guild, Bill Strickland, for making the project possible.

“He realized that having a positive art experience could change a person’s life,” said Wallen.

To prepare, the students researched the history of Spring Hill through archival articles and photographs and interviews of local residents who lived there in the early twentieth century.

“Using the ideas and imagery from the stories we collected, we did drawings of what the kids thought were the important ideas, what really fascinated them,” said Wallen.

“The students liked the idea that the German settlers brought their own racing pigeons with them from Europe, so the mural has a stream of pigeons racing across the top of it.”

Members of the community also pitched in to add their creative flair to the wall during a workshop with the students and Wallen at Spring Hill Elementary School. The 60 tiles created by adults and children of the community became a border for the mural.

Lindsay Allen studies at the University of Pittsburgh and hails from Eastern Pa.