Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pennsylvania) worked with a local artist to create a public mural that represents their community’s history and diversity.
This article is reprinted, with permission, from the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Facebook page.
Salina Almanzar (sah-lee-nah ahll-mun-czar)(she/her) is a Puerto Rican and Dominican artist, muralist and educator. Her personal art and scholarship examine the intersections of Latinidad and feminism, often working with family photos and memorabilia and historical documents. She is specifically interested in what it means to be ni de aqui y ni de alla, meaning being part of a diaspora that is between spaces and between cultures. She is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has a bachelor’s degree in studio art and English literature from Franklin and Marshall College and a master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University. Her research while at Drexel University focused on Creative Placemaking in the Lancaster Latinx community. Her murals and public artworks can be found in Lancaster City, Lancaster County and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
On Sunday, August 27, Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pennsylvania) was delighted to hold a blessing for their new mural, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” created by Salina Almanzar-Oree, in her delightfully collaborative process. The mural is on the corner of Grant and Concord Streets in Lancaster City.
The story behind “For the Beauty of the Earth”
“For the Beauty of the Earth” has many beginnings. One beginning started with the creative vision of CMCL congregants, like Marty Kelly, who upon seeing the blank wall felt the pull for creative intervention. Another beginning was the early conversations of what would become the mural steering committee — Marty Kelly, Melanie Yoder-Salim, Chad Martin and Leslie Homer-Cattell. Formally, the project began in the fall 2021, with a series of community engagements led by Salina Almanzar-Oree.
Neighbors, CMCL members and passersby were welcomed to contribute to mind maps and creative prompts with a goal of finding common themes that might inform the final mural. In late fall 2021, Salina distilled the feedback, artworks and conversations into three sketches and held another series of engagements to co-edit the drawings. One image emerged and became the final mock-up of “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
With the building under construction, Salina translated the drawings to mural cloth — Polytab, a non-woven material used to remotely paint murals and large scale paintings — and brought them to the Parrot Gallery in winter 2021 and into 2022. CMCL members were invited to help paint the mural in a paint-by-number model, in 5ft x 5ft increments. The panels were then cleaned up by Salina in her studio and saved for installation.
The mural was installed over the course of eight days this summer, with the help of artist Osmyn Josef Oree and many CMCL members.
Symbolism in “For the Beauty of the Earth”
“For the Beauty of the Earth” was drawn in a simplified style, inspired by stained glass art. The major symbols include a Sanborn Fire Insurance map, which depicts the area around what was the Conn & Slote Printing Company (nearest the head of the parrot). Surrounding the Conn & Slote building are other businesses and residences present at the time of the creation of the map, in 1912. The main figure soaring from left to right is a parrot, the symbol adopted by CMCL as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. The parrot is also a universal symbol for many Lancaster City community members, as a symbol of migration, the vibrancy of our diverse community and a reminder for many of the various species of parrots from their home countries. The background is a snapshot of community members walking and occupying the parking lot at the Grant Street and Concord Street intersection, in various states of play. This was an important element to many neighbors, as they reflected on how free and playful their childhoods were while growing up on the block. In the foreground are papaws and leaves, as a stand in for our native agriculture. Inside of the papaws and leaves are vignettes, borrowed from LancasterHistory’s archive of images.
Included in the vignettes from top to bottom and left to right are:
- An example of a printing press that would have been used at the Conn & Slote printing company.
- An image of protestors outside of Rocky Springs pool, a segregated pool, in August 1963.
- A map of CMCL’s nearest waterways.
- The CMCL building in 1927, then the Pentecostal Tabernacle Church.
- Another map of major waterways and their Indigenous names.
- An example of Susquehannock longhouses.
- An advertisement for a Pressmen for Conn & Slote printing company.
- Between a pawpaw leaf and a paw paw is the iconic image that tells the story of Dirk Willems rescuing his pursuer, which is in “Martyrs Mirror.”
- An image of community members — Doris Johnson and her neighbors — fundraising for their neighborhood on South Christian street. Doris Johnson is among the eldest members of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church on the southeast of Lancaster City.
- An advertisement for a cherry pitter that was printed by Conn & Slote Printing Company.
- A Bomba y Plena dancer from the last Puerto Rican Parade held in Lancaster City.
- Susquehannock Petroglyphs.
Each element was carefully selected to capture the broad and extensive history this community has and wanted to be reflected in this mural. The title borrows the first line of the hymn of the same name, “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Folliott S. Pierpoint, 1835–1917.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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