Photo Submitted by Sprocket Mural Works
Artist Aron Kylene Rook at her mural on the side of the new Zeroday.
By Christina Heintzelman
The intersection of Calder and 3rd streets features a can’t-miss huge Necco Wafer purple wall along with a darker purple ampersand (&) along the east side of Calder. This mural on the side of the local Sayford Market was one of the first murals to be painted for the 2017 Mural Art Festival in Harrisburg through Sprocket Mural Works. Would the general public consider this to be art? It sure is and this is why: The artist, Craig Welsh, who is a graphic designer and architect, wanted to create a mural about inclusion and friendship. He has succeeded. Many people stop at this mural with a friend or family member for a photo op. Think of it this way: You & me, me & my dog, me & some neighbors.
Sprocket Mural Works has existed in some form since 2014. In 2017, the president of the organization, Megan Caruso, along with her Board of Directors, came up with an idea — what if they could do 10 murals in 10 days in various locations in Harrisburg. What emerged from this was 18 murals in 10 days just in time for their Harrisburg Mural Festival in September of 2017.
“Sprocket Mural Works has a small board and a huge number of volunteers, 500 at last count, who help prepare and prime walls for artists, and provide other help as we need it,” said Caruso, an artist who works as creative director for The Burg monthly magazine.
“In 2019, we had 370 people apply during our request for artists’ proposals,” said Caruso, explaining that the platform they use spreads the word far and wide. “These artists are international, national and local.” Along with a group of Harrisburg artists who select the winners, the community can also get involved by voting for a particular mural for their area of the city. The process starts with the board looking around the city for available walls to paint, contacting the building owners, and then polling the community for ideas.
“There are always four things that people are attracted to when asked about their mural preferences: The first is nature, the second is animals, the third is people, and the fourth is bright colors,” Caruso said.
One of the recurring sponsors for the mural project is Harristown Enterprises, which has sponsored at least a half a dozen murals. “Sprocket Mural Works has been a tremendous addition to Harrisburg, Harristown, and the community by bringing a love of the city and love of the community for public art,” said Brad Jones, President and CEO of Harristown Enterprises. “I could not be happier as to how it has all turned out. We are dealing with extremely talented people who are quite skilled in identifying artists. It has been a pleasure to build a reservoir of murals in our city. They deserve all the credit they can get as a small nonprofit who are really mighty and pack a huge wallop.”
Harristown, along with Downtown Improvement District (DID) and the McCormick Foundation, hopes to create three more murals — for a total of six — on Blackberry Alley in 2021.
Sprocket likes the concept of developing a mural trail for Harrisburg. It would start near the Amtrak Station, continue through SOMA (South of Market), move into Downtown, and finally cross through Midtown. This year, the group hopes to add paintings along the Mulberry Street bridge toward Derry Street, the Market Street underpass, and up through Allison Hill. The Allison Hill mural will be on the side of the Recycle Bicycle shop at 1722 Chestnut St. Funding is still needed for this project.
Sprocket concentrated on murals along the 3rd Street corridor in 2019 to add to the cleanup and beautification of that area, which was being revamped by Capital Water with new bump outs created to assist in draining water away from the area during heavy rains. The bump outs have also been planted with various seasonal perennials.
It is hoped that Harrisburg could garner interest from Amtrak riders from Philadelphia or Lancaster who could take a stop in Harrisburg to view the murals and perhaps stay in town and visit a few stores and restaurants in the process.
One mural that stood out was the one painted on the side of The Jackson House in 2017 by artist Cesar Viveros and dozens of volunteers, who added finishing touches. It fell to an unfortunate demise during building restoration in December 2020 when the wall on which the mural was painted collapsed. The historical Jackson House was located on the corner of Boas and Seventh, and the mural was created for the purpose of honoring the Jackson House’s legacy of economic prominence for African Americans and particularly of prominent people in the jazz scene such as Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington. Joe Louis, the heavyweight world champion boxer also stayed here.
German Jackson, the son of slaves and founder of The Jackson House, purchased this building as a hotel for blacks traveling to this area and as a place to host music by black performers. Although the hotel was created for blacks who were not welcome in other hotels, Jackson always welcomed everyone who came to stay or have dinner in the attached restaurant.
“This mural will probably not be replicated, but we may do a special project in which some of those painted bricks are collected for a project; this, though, is not totally planned,” Caruso said. “It is important to talk about moving forward and what we can accomplish with more art depicting black lives in our community. It is so important to tell the story of that mural and Sprocket was proud of the opportunity to do that.”
Another mural with a story behind it is painted on the back of the home of Nancy and Russ Mueller at 263 Oliver Alley. Nancy wanted a mural that celebrated the people and diversity of Harrisburg, so Russ reached out to sponsor a mural as part of the 2019 Mural Arts Fest. The mural, created by Anat Ronen, features children from the community who attend St. Stephens School. Ronen, an Israeli artist who now lives in Houston, learned of the Sprocket project while Googling for art calls.
A mural located behind Millworks on the Millworks lumber storage building was created in 2017 by Brandon Spicer-Crawley, a student at The Center for Creative Works in Wynnewood, Pa., which is a unique art studio focusing on developing creative workplace potential and cultural identity for people with intellectual disabilities. “We created a special project for Brandon by buying parachute cloth to create the mural and by providing paints, which we took to him in Wynnewood. The mural was installed onto the wall with a gel medium and his family was invited to stay in Harrisburg to watch the completion of the process,” Caruso said.
Plans to add to the mural and to convert the grassy area into a park this year are under way, but unfortunately this project has not been funded this year and Sprocket is reaching out for monetary support to complete the project.
The Sprocket team is also working on creating a pocket park that includes murals and a rain barrel to collect water for new plantings planned near Yellow Bird Café in Patrick Alley.
One of the first 2021 season murals is located on the side of Zeroday Brewing located at 925 N. 3rd St. The mural was commissioned by WCI Partners who managed the building project for Zeroday owner Theo Armstrong. The mural was created and painted by Aron Kylene Rook, who has contributed her artistry on three other Sprocket mural projects.
“The new mural on the side of Zeroday is entitled ‘All us friends with our face[s] toward the sun.’ Working with Sprocket reminds me of some of my favorite days growing up on our family farm where we would all work together. Megan Caruso often volunteers long days and into the nights on site to assist artists. She is out there priming, painting, sweating with the rest of us. She is very accessible, and I am very thankful,” Rooke said.
Another new mural celebrating the roots of the Steelton community will be painted and sponsored by Mid Penn Bank at 51 S. Front St., Steelton.
Stay tuned for more information on the 2021 mural painting season and its artists.
Sprocket, which is always looking for donors to help pay the artists and fund the projects, is a 501(c)(3). This year, rather than a weeklong session of mural painting, Sprocket will move to an entire mural season. The kickoff for fundraising and mural sponsorship is happening now.
Sprocket can be reached through its website, www.sprocketmuralworks.com, and Facebook page of the same name.