Mantua: Murals Serve As Reminders of Community Triumphs

Paul Santoleri is a professional artist who has been working as a muralist in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia for over 30 years. He has produced murals all over Philadelphia, including several in Mantua, one of which is “Wild Iris” (featured below), a vibrant mural that decorates the back of a housing complex in the heart of the community to this day.

“Wild Iris” on Wallace and N 34th St. Artist: Paul Santoleri. (Dylan Bowman PN)

“I think it’s kind of common ground,” Santoleri said, speaking on the power of murals like his own. “[It’s] a place where people can reflect. It is almost like a diary entry, something that links people together or a collective memory.”

Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program and is dedicated to using the beauty of long-lasting art to work toward change and a more progressive future. Mural Arts has a long-time relationship with Mantua, among other neighborhoods across the city, having spearheaded dozens of murals within the neighborhood that depict something or someone sentimental to the community.

Gwen Morris, a 50-year resident of Mantua and secretary of the Mantua Civic Association, has collaborated with Mural Arts on several projects and is proud of all of the work they have produced together. The murals showcase more than bright colors and striking images. A long legacy of civil rights and community leaders in Mantua are prominently remembered through these works. 

“Mantua is a community of murals,” said Morris. “Mantua has a rich history of activism, with a variety of leaders, and the murals reflect that.”

Forefathers of Mantua such as Herman Wrice, who believed in transforming his city through strong civic engagement and inspiring future generations by leading by example, have their legacy preserved through the murals. Wrice founded Mantua Against Drugs, which was a campaign that relentlessly combated narcotics use in the community and sought to purge it of dealers and drug houses.

“Tribute to Herman Wrice” on Haverford and N 33rd St. Artist: David McShane (Dylan Bowman PN)

The murals are also a catalyst for community engagement, encouraging members to get involved in drafting, and eventually creating the murals. 

“When you come across Spring Garden Street bridge, and you see the panels on the bridge, that was a community-wide endeavor for Mantua. All of those panels were painted and installed in collaboration with Mural Arts,” said Morris.

Morris is referring to the mural titled “Sing Because it is Heard.” It spans the majority of the Spring Garden Street Bridge, which connects Mantua to the Art Museum district. The artwork of tulips and the floral panels are meant to represent the growth and beauty of Mantua over the years.

In a time when city-issued property destruction and gentrification have become such pressing issues for long-standing neighborhoods in Philadelphia, murals stand as a beacon of hope and a reminder of community tradition.

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