Neighborhoods as canvases


While canvassing for political candidates before the November 2010 election I discovered a whole row of mosaic artwork on Yetta Street in Spring Hill. Spring Hill is known for the castle-like stone walls on Damas Street, but these fantastic mosaics did indeed catch my eye.

As luck would have it, Linda Wallen, a French teacher at the Campus School of Carlow College came by. Linda, who also teaches art at the Carnegie Museum and has founded an art school in France, provided some insight to these street artworks spanning the walls of five properties.

Linda began the mosaic masterpiece and then it was picked up by her daughter Casey along with some of Casey’s students at the Manchester Craftsmen Guild. Plans are in place for a terrific "Spring Hill" mural at the intersection of Damas and Homers streets.

Perhaps one of the most well known pieces of Northside public art is Randyland, at the corner of Arch and Jacksonia streets. Randy Gilson’s decades of painting and planting brought him to national attention, when his home and adjacent garden were featured on one of the country’s popular morning television programs.

For many years Randy paid little heed to any naysayers who would seek to put a seal of approval on his creative impulses. In fact Randy was one of the original gardeners at the highly successful Old Allegheny Garden plots along Arch Street and Sherman Avenue.

Having gardened there a few years back, I often recall how Randy and friends would help some of the older residents prepare their garden plots for spring planting. Randy is a true mensch.

Presently, Randyland is at the center of a growing flock of magnificently molded flamingos that have landed along Jacksonia Street. This bit of brilliant tropical flair in the heart of the Northside was most welcome during the past grey and stormy springtime rains.

Not far from Randyland is a growing gallery of fascinating houses that are part of the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh colony along Sampsonia Way.

Under the leadership of Diane Samuels and Henry Reese, this narrow street has several houses painted to make statements about some of the people whose lives have been changed by the international City of Asylum program, particularly those authors and thinkers who have lived on Sampsonia.

Last September several of these homes were seen when a team from PBS Newshour came to the Northside to prepare a feature story about City of Asylum’s annual celebration of poetry and jazz.

Along with the mosaics of Spring Hill, Randyland and the City of Asylum houses on Sampsonia Way there are several public art murals scattered throughout our Northside neighborhoods. These artworks, along with the many flowering garden plots at intersections throughout the Northside, add to the beauty and diversity of North Side life.

The commitment of neighbors who take the time and put forth the effort to add vibrancy and color to the urban landscape is a gift. We Northsiders can enjoy, talk about and definitely say thanks to those who often paint and plant outside the lines.

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