Out and About: Wall of Inspiration on 15th Street SE
by Elizabeth Eby
Posted September 15, 2022
Walking to the Safeway I noticed this mural on the north side of a house on corner of 15 Street, SE and Duvall Court. The brick house is painted Prussian blue which provides an excellent background for the mural. Bold colors, hot and warm shades of red highlight and energize the faces. They emphasize the women’s personalities. From Sally Ride’s “weightlessness is a great equalizer” to Kamala Harris’ “While I may be the first … I won’t be the last,” the mural uses the women’s own words to tell the story of the fight for gender equality. The artist is Mimi Ton (@mimithemuralist).
She also did the cherry blossoms on the crinkle cut aluminum garage door. The two murals use the same bold style but could not be more different. One is decorative; the other is political and stunning. Together they form a question about murals as an art form. Are they decorative or political? Can they be both simultaneously?
I visited the murals with two of my younger girl friends. They thought it was inspirational but asked who Sally Ride was. Interestingly both Kamala Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsberg appear on many murals in the DMV. Several Ruth Bader Ginsburg fans had posted favorable comments when I googled this mural including one who said “It feels like RBG is watching over the city.”
In contrast, a 2021 mural of RBG generated controversy in Anacostia. Residents pointed out that neither the artist nor the person who commissioned it live in Anacostia. They said it was a bad match for the community and that local artists and students should have been hired to do the job. The artist, a Californian, tried to fix the problem by adding tattoos of BLM, George Floyd, and Anacostia to Ginsberg’s forehead. mural was painted over shortly after completion.
I think Sally Ride is an important choice for the mural. She got a PhD in physics from Stanford University which was highly unusual for a woman in 1978. Ride may not have been glamorous but Mattel made a Sally Ride Barbie. She was the youngest US astronaut and the third woman in space. (The Russians beat us by two.) Even now with all the efforts to recruit women into science and engineering her name is forgotten. – perhaps because her career was academic or because she avoided celebrity and kept her personal life private. Her quotation “Weightlessness is a great equalizer” is a statement of equality between the sexes. It does not ring as a sound bite. In a post-flight interview with Gloria Steinem, Ride said NASA was enlightened about flying women to space and that all the bathroom questions came from the press.
The Capitol Hill Restoration Society has a free directory of murals located on the Hill and in other neighborhoods. https://chrs.org/mural-tour/ Murals DC has a map to projects which they funded on their website. http://muralsdcproject.com/
Murals DC works with the DC Arts Commission and their projects include funds to teach students art techniques, how to prepare walls and finish surfaces. They are always on the lookout for walls to be donated. It was created in 2007 as part of the DC Department of Public Works to fund murals to “obliterate graffiti and revitalize communities.” That is a little scary and adds a third dimension to the mural question: Are they decorative, political or perhaps the ultimate act of gentrification?
The 15th St. Mural took me by surprise and gave me something pleasant to think about and discuss with my friends. The homeowner did not return my calls so I do not know its etiology. It shows up on the Restoration Society website but is not on the Murals DC map.
Unlike some of new murals, the curation affect is hardly noticeable. In contrast to the Anacostia experience, it is on a private home in an already revitalized and gentrified residential neighborhood where it slips into the social fabric.
Out and About is an occasional photo feature by artist, photographer, gardener, and Capitol Hill resident Elizabeth Eby. She finds vignettes while out and about on or near Capitol Hill.