"R-O-X-B-U-R-Y" Three panel mural commissioned by City of Boston for the Roxbury Public Library
The commissioning process began with public meetings on what the neighborhood would like to see in the branch. From those meetings it was clear that there was a strong desire for public art that speaks directly to what it means to live in Roxbury.
The City incorporated the community’s desires into a Call to Artists in May 2018. Through a competitive proposal process, local artist Joe Wardwell was selected to interview by an Artist Selection Committee made up of arts professionals, many from Roxbury. The Art Commission awarded him for the project.
In thinking about how to approach the Roxbury Branch project, Joe Wardwell set out with some key goals for the design:
think about the neighborhood and surrounding community of the library
collaborate and engage with other artists and members of the community, and respond to the architecture and feel of the redesigned library.
The redesigned space and a desire to include more work from local poets like Nakia Hill in the piece led Joe to propose an expansion of the project. His project now extends across the two side panels adjacent to the central clerestory wall.
The artwork is a combination of landscape, text, and abstraction combined through a layering process. The bottom layer will be a blend of colors with stenciled landscapes on top. Each image will be iconic viewpoints around the Roxbury neighborhood.
The second layer is an abstract layer. It responds to the architectural elements of both the original and redesigned branch. A color spectrum of gradient throughout the piece will mirror the gradient across the back of the library stacks. The wood diagonal baffles throughout the ceiling show up in the abstract design. The vertical columns of the space are also reflected in the vertical “bands” in the design.
The third layer is a layer of text. For this part of the project, Joe collaborated with poet, former City of Boston artist-in-residence (Boston AIR), and 826 Boston’s Writing Room Director Nakia Hill and the Youth Literary Advisory Board (YLAB). The collaboration includes:
an excerpt of Nakia Hill’s poem "A Nubian Notion" in the large text of the artwork
poems about Roxbury by Asiyah Herrera and other youth writers in the smaller text of the artwork
a silkscreen portfolio for the Boston Public Library, 826 Boston, and the contributing writers, and the cover for a book published by the YLAB writers.