'Blue Wall' in Mt. Airy, the 'bluest' community in PA

by Elspeth Lodge
Posted 2/4/21

In the “bluest” neighborhood of Pennsylvania, Mt. Airy, a group of cultural creatives collaborated on a project in the new year known as the “Blue Wall” mural, an art installation composed of donated community Biden-Harris campaign signs.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

'Blue Wall' in Mt. Airy, the 'bluest' community in PA

Posted

In the “bluest” neighborhood of Pennsylvania, Mt. Airy, a group of cultural creatives collaborated on a project in the new year known as the “Blue Wall” mural, an art installation composed of donated community Biden-Harris campaign signs.

The idea arose when Betsy Teutsch, a Mt. Airy political activist, saw a usual sea of Biden-Harris lawn campaign signs on one of her frequent walks about her neighborhood. “I’m told by Chris Rabb, our State Representative, that Mt. Airy is the bluest dot in Pennsylvania,” she said.

“If you look at the numbers from election returns, they are overwhelmingly Democratic. In the primary election but even more so in the general election, there were so many signs everywhere, and it seemed like every house in Mt. Airy, where I was, and in Germantown had blue signs for Biden and Harris.”

Teutsch appreciated the signs as an artist and also as an active member of Turn PA Blue, a campaign that mobilizes volunteer activism across the state, to fill the Pennsylvania legislature with Democrats. She found the signs aesthetically pleasing and as an environmentalist, didn’t want to see them end up in the recycling or trash. “I just loved the signs,” she said. “Some of them were straightforward, some of them were snarky with clever quips and funny images, some of them were just funny such as ‘Any Democrat, 2020,’ things like that. The idea of the mural just popped into my head.”

The first volunteer for the project, Adina Newberg, said she marveled at the creativity and commitment of the people in her neighborhood when it came to their lawn signs. They had their signs up for months, she said. “And each time I walked around three, four, five blocks, I kept saying, This is amazing, this is amazing ...

“Some of them were hand-made signs, and some were not. Some were both; some were official from the Democratic Party. And it seemed like a reflection of the neighborhood, not only that it had many Democratic signs but that it had a variety of them, and it had just an explosion of ideas.”

When Biden appeared to win the election, Teutsch formed a team to collect the signs and bring the idea to life for a mural made from them. She reached out to her community members through Facebook, describing the network as “the neighborhood grapevine” during Covid-19. The first volunteer to join the Blue Wall team was Newberg, a friend of Teutsch, who offered to collect and store the blue signs at her home. Teutsch’s next recruit? Another friend, Clifford Wagner, a retired science museum installation designer, who “knows how to build.”

Helping Wagner with the physical aspects of building the mural was Mario Zucca, an illustrator and Teutsch’s neighbor. “I just jumped right on board because I thought it was such a cool idea,” he said. “As an illustrator, I’m always working small … so I’ve always wanted to get into doing something bigger, like public art projects that the community could enjoy, and I’ve always kept my eyes peeled for any sort of opportunity like that. So when this came up I was like ‘Yes, absolutely, this sounds so fun.’”

Another volunteer, Ellen Wolf, helped communicate that the group wanted signs for the project via sites like neighborhood networks, Facebook, and various listservs. But something unexpected happened; people were not willing to part with their signs.

“Even though eventually we knew that Biden won by a large margin and would be the next president,” said Teutsch, “there was just so much violence and controversy and lying about it, and people just didn’t feel safe giving up their signs. It was fascinating to me.” 

The group asked for signs a few times in the Weavers Way weekly email, and they got a small number. Suddenly, signs were donated in larger quantities after Jan. 6, right after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s victory. “We had a trickle, and then it was more,” said Teutsch.

“I didn’t tell people what to bring,” Newberg said. “People brought whatever signs they felt should be on the wall: 'Black Lives Matter,' 'War is not the Answer' and 'Gay Rights' were some of the messages highlighted. The signs portrayed sentiments that the community felt the Biden Administration would support and advocate for, even if the signs didn’t say Biden and Harris at all.”

The group now had the signs they needed, but the plan for a “partisan social history mural” meant that many community spaces, public buildings and businesses didn’t feel comfortable hosting the project due to its political, partisan nature. Josephine Winter found out about the group’s need for a location via a listserv they had advertised on, and she offered a huge, white stucco wall at her home at 258 W. Gorgas Lane. 

Wagner built the frame for the mural and suspended it from the roof of Winter’s building, so that the project wasn’t directly adhered to the wall. They went through all of the signs to decide which should be grouped together based on colors, sizes, materials, and themes. Teutsch equates the process of creating the mural to crafting a quilt. “We just blocked it out according to the space and we had to make a couple of editorial choices.”

Zucca approached the mural as a checkerboard. He wanted to organize the signs, which varied in sizes, in a way that would highlight color and contrast. He staggered darker blue signs with lighter signs. In terms of themes, he said, “I’m glad we got a few ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ signs in there. We have one in front of our house, and that’s definitely a thematic sign throughout the neighborhood.”

The group finished the Blue Wall on Martin Luther King Day, “which felt like a coincidence but a fortuitous coincidence,” said Teutsch. “And then a few people from our neighborhood came by and admired it … We were all far apart, but it was just nice to collaborate and work on something material.”

As of the day this article was turned in, Jan. 24, the Facebook page Pennsylvania Women for Biden/Harris had received over 3,000 “thumbs up” for photos of the mural and more than 200 comments and 75 “shares.”

Freelance writer Elspeth Lodge is a Chestnut Hill area resident and author of “The Garden Ducklings,” a children's book published last August by Archway Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment