There are some interesting portraits on a couple of old, historic buildings in Detroit. They are big, beautiful, colorful paintings of historical, influential, political, and literary Detroiters.

I first noticed them about a year ago on a 3-story building on Grand River Avenue near I-94. The portraits on the building caught my eye as I was riding my bicycle up the avenue. The old turn of the century brick building is home to 16 impressive portraits that include Chief Pontiac, former mayor Hazen Pingree, community activist Grace Boggs, former Detroit city council member Maryann Mahaffey, Rosa Parks, Jazz composer Yusef Lateef, and many others. They are installed in the window openings of the building.

Grand River Avenue portrait gallery

Grand River Avenue portrait gallery

Maryann Mahaffey - former Detroit City Council member

Maryann Mahaffey – former Detroit City Council member

Helen Thomas, Yusef Lateef, Michael Alston (Wheel Chair Mike) and Tecumseh

Helen Thomas, Yusef Lateef, Michael Alston (Wheel Chair Mike) and Tecumseh

Now I see that a few more have gone up on a vintage 2-story boarded-up building that is home to a liquor store on the first floor. That particular building is on Trumbull Street at the I-94 exit/service drive in the city’s historic Woodbridge neighborhood. Ten portraits are on that building and they cover the boarded up windows facing Trumbull. All of the individual portraits are Detroit literary figures. They include Naomi Long Madgett, Bill Harris, Lolita Hernandez, Terry Blackhawk, Melba Joyce Boyd, Philip Levine, Mick Vranich, Dudley Randall, Robert Hayden, and Sixto Rodriguez.


Trumbull Street portraits

Trumbull Street portraits

The portraits are all the work of Nicole MacDonald, a Detroit based artist. They are part of an ongoing project called The Detroit Portrait Series. The current portraits found on Grand River and on Trumbull streets are truly some of the finest public art in Detroit, especially from a historic perspective. It will be interesting to see what comes next (and where) in this series of portraits.

Kudos to the artist Nicole MacDonald, nice work!



On a recent bicycle ride I stumbled upon a little fenced-off lot on Detroit’s far east side. At first I didn’t pay much attention to it.  It was a relatively small lot with a basic two railing fence that lined the property on all four sides. The fence was painted green. Within the fenced lot were small, green plants that looked to be nothing more than short stemmed weeds. But, as I soon discovered while peddling alongside of it, there was more to this fenced in lot than what I realized.

Green Fenced Lot _2711

There were a series of tall metal rods with various auto parts mounted on the top of them, creating an interesting sculpture of tall grass stems with the parts representing seeds or flowers. The metal rods and parts were painted green, basically matching the fence and green plants growing in the lot. The sculpture pieces were placed close together and had a unique wind chime sound as a gentle breeze blew them into each other. In front of the installation was a sign that read “Green Grass by artist, resident and advocate for the eastside Glenn A. Urquhart”.

Tall Grass Sculpture_2705

Green Grass Sculpture Sign_2706

Upon a closer look at the site, I saw another sign that identified the grass within the fenced lot. To my surprise the little plants were more than weeds. According to the site sign, they are called pennycress. I understand the annual plant is being grown for its seeds that are being developed as a biodiesel. This little lot and the plants that are planted there are a small step toward biofuels that can have a huge impact on future generations.

Pennycress Sign_2707

In addition to the Green Grass sculpture and the pennycress plants, there’s a nice little landscaped garden in a small section along the street. It incorporates a rock garden and a separate small plant garden that was full of plants when I was there.

Landscaped Curbe Pennycress Garden_2715

I don’t know anything more about this lot or who is responsible for it, but it’s a positive, yet small step in a large puzzle of urban renewal in Detroit. Kudos to those responsible for pulling this all together.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the fantastic street art wall murals that were being painted on various building in Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market. Over 45 Detroit area, out-of-state and international street and graffiti artists were invited to take part in a week-long outdoor street art event entitled: Murals in the Market. The event ran from September 17th through the 25th.

In my previous blog entry, I presented early renderings of six incomplete murals that were being created by some of the many street artists taking part in the event. I recently revisited the market on my bicycle to check out the final, completed pieces, including those that I featured in my last story.  Simply stated, the huge, colorful murals at the market are fantastic!

Below are photos of the series of early works that I featured in my prior blog along with a final picture of each. I’m always amazed at what the talented street artist can do, especially on such a massive scale. Some of the pieces are sized 30’ tall x 60’ wide. When looking at the photos, keep in mind that much of the work was done with nothing more than spray cans. Think about that. It’s pretty incredible!

Nosego and Woes - early stage

Nosego and Woes (artists names) – early stage

Nosego and; Woes - final

Nosego and Woes – final


Fel3000 - early stage

Fel3000 (artist name) – early stage

Fel3000 - Final

Fel3000 – final


Beau Stanton - early stage

Beau Stanton (artist name) – early stage

Beau Stanton - final

Beau Stanton – final


Zak - early stage

Zak (artist name) – early stage

Zak - final

Zak – final


Naturel and Rick Williams - early stage

Naturel and Rick Williams (artists names) – early stage

Naturel and Rick Williams - final

Naturel and Rick Williams – final


Sydney G James - early stage

Sydney G James (artist name) – early stage

Sidney G. James - Final

Sidney G. James – final

It’s worth a trip to the market to view the beautiful murals I’ve posted above along with the other 40 or so that were painted during the week-long event.  You’ll never know what you may find there, including this dazzling beauty found on a wall just off Gratiot Avenue. It’s one of my favorites!

Miss Van - French Artist

Miss Van (artist name)

Reminder – you can click on any image to view them larger.

Over the years, Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market has been a hot spot of colorful wall murals. Much of their visual content builds on the market theme of fruits, vegetables and meats. Others themes have been created by local and international street artists, and they feature a variety of strong graphic elements, dreamy caricatures and cartoonish looking characters. Also found on the walls are murals featuring highly stylized letters and striking abstract designs and illustrations.

Building on the market’s rich heritage of street art, the Eastern Market Corporation (in conjunction with a local art gallery, various sponsors and partners) has created a week-long street art event called Murals in the Market. Over 45 Detroit, out-of-state and international street artists have been invited to paint murals in a range of styles on many of the buildings throughout the market. The event got under way on September 17th and runs through the 25th.

Below are a few early photos I took of some of the incomplete murals while riding throughout the market on my bicycle over the past weekend. Many of the finished wall art pieces will soar 20 to 30 feet, and they’ll be at least that wide. Look for final images of the pieces featured below in an upcoming blog entry.

Nosego Woes_2586

Fel3000 E Mkt_2568

Beau Stanton E Mkt_2572

Outline on white bldg E Mkt_2575

Rick Williams E Mkt_2578

Sydney G Games E Mkt _2579

It was quite interesting to see how the artists worked the walls one small section at a time, and it will be exciting to see how their pieces evolve into the final stage.

Stay tuned!

Odd Little Additions

There are some unique, interesting old apartments and single-family buildings in Detroit built in a variety of styles.  Many are still occupied and well maintained. A few have unusual little additions on the front of them that contain businesses, restaurants or walkways leading to adjoining residential buildings. I don’t know how the concept of adding to the front of buildings evolved, but they are odd-looking.

Det Door Addition_2523

Most of the quirky little additions are constructed of brick. A few are made of wood, and all the ones I’ve seen are attached to places that look to be 75 to 100 years old. Some tap into half of the front of the building, while others look to be attached just enough to allow for a standard doorway between the add-on structure and the home or apartment building. Some of the peculiar additions are painted in bright, eye squinting colors that glow in the sunlight.

Nard's Grill Addition_0864

Grill Addition_2522

However they evolved and whatever the reason for attaching them to the front of residential buildings might be, they sure are odd additions to the once beautiful, old residential homes. So odd in fact, that they destroy the architectural character of the buildings that are hooked to.

2 homes connected E Grand Blvd_2537

Gray Addition_0867

While looking at these places on my bicycle rides, I think the little square editions are some type of offshoot of the late 1800’s, early 1900’s version of a live/work environment.  It wasn’t unusual back then for a store to be built at ground level with an apartment above.

I see the attached additions scattered about the city, mostly along busy streets on the fringe of good, solid neighborhoods. I wonder what it must be like for the people living in the apartment buildings or homes where these unusual additions are found.

As I pointed out in my previous blog entries, there are quite a few vintage advertising signs painted on the sides on some of Detroit’s oldest buildings. Many of the once colorful and interesting signs have faded into the brick walls they have been painted on, leaving nothing more than a ghostly image of their intriguing illustrations and lettering. Some featured pastel colors, and others seemed to have had bold, vivid colors incorporated into their graphics, lettering and logos.

This is probably at least 100 years old. A real work of art

Probably at least 100 years old. A real work of art

While out bicycling in Detroit, I see many of these old ads scattered throughout the city. I’ve seen them on old abandoned restaurants, small machine shops, and older storefronts along the city’s main streets. Many of the 100 year-old brick buildings along the riverfront have ruminants of them, usually near the building’s roof line. The sides of vacant buildings within residential neighborhoods that once housed small mom and pop general stores and other specialty shops also have them.

Former neighborhood stove dealer with ad type barely visible

Former neighborhood stove dealer with ad lettering that is barely visible

Nice variety of letter types

Nice variety of letter types

In earlier blog entries on the faded wall signs in Detroit, I noted that most of the vintage signs I’ve seen are slowly disappearing into the walls they are painted on. The sun has bleached them out, and the wicked weather of winter has stripped them of their once colorful highlights.

Here are a few more photos of the fading signs of Detroit that I’ve spotted on my recent bicycle rides throughout the city.


Calming pastel colors on this old wall ad

Light pastel colors on this old wall ad

Machine shop sigh is slowly fading away

Machine shop sign is slowly fading away

Vintage metal sign probably had neon lighting at one time

Vintage metal sign probably had neon lighting

Below are links to past blog entries on the Fading Wall Signs of Detroit.

Fading Wall Signs

Fading Wall Signs – Part 2

Fading Wall Signs – Part 3

Fading Wall Signs – Part 4

Fading Wall Signs – Part 5

Fading Wall Signs – Part 6

Remember, you can click on any image to view it larger.


A Colorful Garden

The other day I was enjoying a leisurely bicycle ride along West Grand Boulevard in Detroit admiring the big old beautiful brick homes. Many were in immaculate shape, well maintained, and nicely landscaped.  Some of the old places have large, inviting porches on both the ground and second levels where people were out sitting, enjoying the warm sunny day. Other old homes along the Boulevard were a little battered, but their timeless, classic 1920’s architecture was still quite evident.

Pedaling south toward the Detroit River a colorful array of flowers caught my attention to the right. At the corner of Nall Street and the Boulevard was a gorgeously landscaped, colorful front yard garden.  In it were a large variety of flowers and plants in a rainbow of colors that included bright reds, glowing yellows, and deep greens.

The delightful, calm setting reminded me of a Monet painting.

W Grand & Nall_0782

W Grand & Nall_0784

W Grand & Nall_0785


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