'Joyful' mural by Keith Haring restored in Point Breeze

"We the Youth," a Keith Haring mural from 1987 at 22d and Ellsworth Streets, has been restored to its original vibrancy and will be maintained by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
"We the Youth," a Keith Haring mural from 1987 at 22d and Ellsworth Streets, has been restored to its original vibrancy and will be maintained by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 01, 2013

After a weekend of house-hunting in the summer of 2012, out-of-towners Erica and Lucas Bryant saw many, many homes in Philadelphia, but they liked the last one best.

The renovated rowhouse on Ellsworth Street in Point Breeze had everything they wanted, plus a bonus: a quirky, colorful mural of tumbling figures on an exposed wall facing 22d Street.

Intrigued, Lucas Bryant searched online and discovered that the mural was painted in 1987 by Keith Haring.

Neither he nor his wife knew who Haring was.

They do now.

An e-mail from the couple to the Keith Haring Foundation in New York City set off a chain of events that led to a top-to-bottom restoration of the mural.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program oversaw the restoration, which will be unveiled to neighbors at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Erica Bryant, 28, a native of St. Paul, Minn., who works as an office manager for a Philadelphia law firm, can be excused for not knowing about Haring. She was 5 in 1990, when the pop painter, who went from graffiti commando to art-world celebrity, died at 31 from complications of AIDS.

"We love it now," Erica Bryant said of the restored mural. "We're so proud of it."

Haring, who was born in Reading and raised nearby in Kutztown, was invited to create the Point Breeze mural in 1987 by a pair of nonprofits that worked with young artists, the Brandywine Workshop of Philadelphia and CityKids of New York. The groups named the mural We the Youth to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution.

At the time, Jane Golden was working for the city's anti-graffiti network, a precursor to the Mural Arts Program. Someone had tipped her off that Haring was working on a mural in Point Breeze, and she raced across town to meet him.

Golden, whose nonprofit has gone on to create 3,600 murals across the city, was starstruck.

"He represented everything wonderful about artists who work in public spaces," she said.

Haring, she recalled, was "incredibly warm, welcoming, and gracious."

The mural had been restored many times over the years, but was showing signs of wear. Half the stucco was falling off, and flecks of paint were peeling off the exposed brick.

Golden said when she saw a "For Sale" sign go up on the Ellsworth house in 2012, she worried about what new owners would do about the mural.

But after the Bryants bought the house and contacted the Haring Foundation, its executive director, Julia Gruen, immediately reached out to Golden.

"It was a wonderful thing to hear from the new homeowners and know they were keen on protecting the mural," Gruen said.

Haring created about 30 murals in cities such as New York; Melbourne, Australia; and Pisa, Italy. Gruen said the Philadelphia mural was the only collaborative piece Haring created with community groups that remains intact.

The foundation donated $30,000 to the Mural Arts Program to handle restoration work. Kim Alsbrooks, a local restoration artist, worked with a crew of four for the last two months to shore up the wall and bring the mural back to its original colors and design.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and landscape architect Michael LoFurno of Composite Inc. redesigned an adjacent garden.

Golden described the mural as joyful.

The Mural Arts Program has agreed to take responsibility for maintaining it.

"In a small way, we are maintaining the legacy of Keith Haring," Golden said. "How wonderful is that?"


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