How many downtown murals can you see in their entirety without leaving Liberty St.? Head east from Ashley, and right off the bat you’ll find Peacework Through Art, head-and-shoulder portraits of twelve local veterans on the alley sidewall of the Alley Bar. Sponsored by the now defunct Michigan Peaceworks, it was painted by Mary Thiefels and John Vance of Tree Town Murals and includes a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
Two blocks up toward campus, a piece of pure fantasy adorns the alley sidewall of Pangea Piercing at 211 Liberty. Ezra Livingston’s mural is dominated by fanciful imaginary creatures almost bursting off the wall–the Pangea website calls them “masta-fish” and describes them as half mastodon, half fish.
Walk two more blocks and you’ll find a stenciled row of monochromatic trees punctuated with small stars and birds in flight on the sidewall of Orchid Lane Warehouse at 421 Liberty. Cate Tinsley of Olive Leaf Stencils said that the thought behind the trees was to “produce a calming effect” while also being a cost-effective way of repelling graffiti. The driving force behind this mural, and many similar ones around town, was Ann Arborite graffiti fighter Rebecca Arends.
Graffiti rules at “Graffiti Alley” next to the FedEx Office at 505 E. Liberty. Graffiti Alley came about when a mural was vandalized with whitewash followed by graffiti, which has grown and changed over the years. But some of the original mural has survived: the ceiling, painted night-sky blue with gold stars and a written message, and a strip of art running along the walls adjacent to the ceiling. This includes a fanciful lion head with a streaming ribbon on which is painted “Tombeau Hoc Fecit”–Katherine Tombeau Cost was the mural artist.
Approaching State, the sidewall of Salads UP is painted in a design of pastel triangles and diamonds. Nearby, two hot air balloons and floating cubes enliven a large predominantly red, white, and blue mural on the alley sidewall of Pieology. This uplifting art, known as the shur! mural, is another work by Mary Thiefels, working with graphic designer Danijel Matanic and about fifty volunteers, who created it following a “paint-by-numbers concept.”
Thiefels intended shur! to complement the town’s most famous mural, on the Liberty sidewall of Potbelly sandwiches at the corner of State. Painted by Richard Wolk when David’s Books had the building’s upper floor, it features head and shoulder portraits of Woody Allen, Edgar Allan Poe, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, and Anais Nin. As we photographed it, one person stopped to rattle off the names of all the portraits, another to take a selfie, but most people just pushed on by.
What an artful afternoon! Seven sightings, some significant, all visible during a short stroll down Liberty.