A Classic Cleveland Mural Is About To Get A Refresh By LAND Studio

A group of Native American dancers perform at the 1969 dedication of "Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench."
The 1969 dedication of "Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench" was a celebration of diversity and inclusion. [Morrell family]

A 52-year-old mural in Downtown Cleveland is about to get a facelift. Planners say the painting’s message has a new resonance today.

Artist John Morrell poses by an illustration of his mural. [Morrell family]

“Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench” was dedicated in 1969 and depicts a diverse collection of people sitting together in a park. Greg Peckham is the director of the public art nonprofit LAND Studio that is sponsoring the refresh of the mural. And while the scene may not be a model of social distancing, Peckham thinks it makes a timeless statement in divisive times.

“At this point in time in our city's history and our country's history, that message of togetherness and brotherhood is just as relevant today as it was in the late 60s when the piece was created,” he said.

The painting was designed as the backdrop for a small, pocket park at East 9th and Rockwell. Peckham said it’s just become part of the environment.

"’Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench’ has been sort of that iconic part of the Downtown cityscape for four generations,” he said. “And it's a piece that lives in so many people's memory that has really fallen into disrepair. It was really an opportunity to refresh an important message and important work of art in the Downtown landscape.”

Morell’s daughter Katy recalls that her late father’s mural was a group effort.

“The conversation always revolved around public art and how he always felt that art should be for the people,” she said. “And what he loved best about that mural was that people literally would walk up and say, ‘Hey, can I paint?’ And he would let them paint.”

Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes congratulates artist John Morrell at the 1969 dedication of the mural. [Morrell family]

This time, the painting will be done by Alan Giberson, a modern professional with a love for old-school techniques: Giberson, founder of the Old Soul Sign Company specializes in the increasingly rare craft of painting signs by hand directly on a building, as opposed to images reproduced on video screens or printed on vinyl and affixed to a wall.

And Greg Peckham noted there will be another key part of this refreshing project: benches. The original park had benches, but they were taken out over the years.

“We're going to put in some nice, beautiful new park benches and really make a space that sort of has that mural as a backdrop to it,” Peckham said.

Plans are to start painting within the next two weeks. The refreshed mural, is due to be rededicated in early October.

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