New Mural Panels Add Interest to Downtown Brownsville

cast_ironThose that drive or walk along Market Street in Brownsville will find a new addition that adds a good deal of eye appeal to the cityscape.

On the facade of Iron Bridge Crossings, a newly opened apartment complex located at 5 Market Street, artist Marlana Adele Vassar added two 8-by-10-foot mural panels designed to showcase the town’s rich history.

Raised in Uniontown but now residing in Pittsburgh, Vassar conferred with former mayor Norma Ryan, who took her around town to show her some of the sites that could serve as inspiration for the mural. Eventually, Vassar chose to create the murals with a theme on the town’s rail, river and road heritage.

The National Road runs right through town, and the mural titled “Young Explorers” includes several historic photos of what downtown looked like in the mid-20th century along with other relevant images provided by the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation (BARC).

“The artwork features two young people learning about different landmarks and historical elements of the town,” said Vassar. “I’ve left the figures blank and included a male and female child, so that viewers could envision themselves as part of the artwork regardless of their sex or race.”

“The blank figures also stand for a blank slate, since the future is something that cannot be predicted,” she continued. “I’ve also included a bright palette to draw viewers in and provide a contrast against the black and white elements, with bold flowing lines to bring attention to the entire piece.”

In her career, Vassar had created other public commissions including a group of eight outdoor paintings for the city of Ithaca, New York, and a group of murals for New York Cares at a site in the Bronx.

During a residency at the Brew House, an artist collective housed in the old Duquesne Brewery on Pittsburgh’s South Side, she mentioned to Natalie Sweet, who is in charge of the residency program, and Chris McGinnis, chief curator for Rivers of Steel, that she was interested in public commission work.

After consulting with BARC and submitting a proposal in April 2017, she received notice that the commission was approved by late May 2018.

“The project was developed by Rivers of Steel Arts and the Brew House Association (BHA) in partnership with the City of Brownsville and TREK Development Group [which owns Cast Iron Crossings], McGinnis said. “While enrolled in the Distillery 8 residency at BHA, Vassar worked collaboratively with stakeholders to develop a concept that reflected the unique history of Brownsville and a positive vision for its future.”

In late June, Vassar enlarged the photos of town provided by BARC and glued them to the murals. She then painted around them to finish the panels, then added a layer of outdoor clear coat to protect them from the weather. On Monday, August 6, she and McGinnis transported them by truck to Brownsville where they mounted them on the facade of the Iron Bridge Crossings building by early afternoon.

“It was a pleasure to work with the Brew House Association on this mural project and bring some creative energy to the city of Brownsville’s historic downtown!” said McGinnis. “We are grateful to Trek Development Group for sharing in our vision and providing the perfect location in which to showcase Marlana Vassar’s unique design. We hope this colorful mural will encourage the community to celebrate their unique history and inspire a new generation of Young Explorers.”

Story by Dave Zuchowski for Pennsylvania Bridges