Archive for June, 2013

Detroit is one of the oldest cities in America. It’s been around for over 300 years and survived major fires, riots, downturns in the economy, etc. In its prime, the city’s neighborhoods were packed solid with houses; some build so close there was only a walkway between them. Most of the densely populated neighborhoods had a corner store that people could easily walk to for general household items. I stumbled upon such a store the other day in a nearby Westside community.

This vintage brick beauty I saw probably went up in the late 1800s or very early 1900s. At that time, bricks were easy to manufacture, cheap, and commonly used for construction during this period of rapid growth in Detroit. The charming old place was undoubtedly built as a bakery, candy store or a common general store that served the residents of the community long before the automobile made it easier to shop downtown and elsewhere.

Note the arch windows and second story brickwork

Note the arch windows and second story brickwork

One of the many things I like about old buildings is the brickwork and unique architectural details. This place has both. The simple, yet somewhat ornate brickwork above the second story windows, along the roofline and outer edges of the building create an interesting arch. The upper windows on the two-story section and on the single story part of the building are arched as well, a classic feature of the era. In its prime, the building’s two large windows that bookend the main entry door were more than likely used for display purposes.

It’s good to see this old, well-constructed brick beauty is still standing, in use, and overall it looks to be in pretty good shape.

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I see plenty of messages crudely painted on cement walls, the sides of buildings, scrap wood, and many other places while touring Detroit on my bicycle. Some are nothing more than senseless words, and others are insightful opinions, philosophical quotes or sayings. Several have stopped me in my tracks because of the accompanying graphic or length and subject matter of the written piece.

One in particular caught my attention as I passed under a railroad overpass near the city’s new center area. The black and white piece included an interesting, sad image of a downtrodden person that accompanied a scroll with about fifty words on it.  Both were posted to the cement support. The simple but powerfully written piece of urban poetry complimented the image and both captivated and moved me.

Hooded Character wScroll_6092

I especially like the drawing of the defeated character.  He or she appears to be totally at the mercy of the streets, out of touch with the surroundings, and beaten down from the daily drudgery of life. Based on the image, the character’s life also looks to be shackled into a repetitive, day after day mechanical routine, much like a Detroit automobile assembly line that never seems to end.

When reading the street poetry from the photograph below, note the capital letters and boldness that were used to stress the importance of what the author had written.

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“Please pick up your weary head.

I know how the weight of this town can put an arch in your spine and I’ve spent far too long memorizing the cracks in the pavement.

There is far too much to see in this city and I can assure you that you’re not going to find any answers located beneath your step.  

Today is for moving on.

Today is for finally feeling OK.

Take a walk with me.”

These are powerful words and an engaging image from an anonymous street poet and talented artist.

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One of the cool things I like about riding my bicycle throughout Detroit’s neighborhoods is the outdoor art I see.  I’ve seen alphabet blocks stacked in a way to spell out simple messages. I’ve also seen mounds of dirt and cement painted in vibrant, glowing colors. On Oakland Street north of East Grand Boulevard, I stumbled upon three brightly painted, orange metal sculptures of tall, lean figures in a field. They all carry poles that remind me of spears. The figures are placed as if they are walking across the field.

There are many other outdoor art installations I’ve spotted on my rides, including those that are constructed of throw-away materials such as bricks, old pieces of metal and wood. That type reminds me of urban folk-art. Others I’ve seen are well designed, sophisticated sculpture installations such as the one I recently saw in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

That particular African looking sculpture is very similar to the three I saw and wrote about in February 2011. Like those, this one is quite similar in style, color, stature, etc.  I would assume it was done by the same artist. However, this version is much more ornate and decorative. Unlike the others, this one is blowing a fugal horn (or something similar), carrying a brass colored bow with animal horns at the top, and it’s trimmed in various other metal pieces.

Red African Runner Sculpture_6372

A few blocks away on Second Avenue, near the city’s Historic Boston-Edison neighborhood, there is a series of six urban folk-art sculptures. The pieces are constructed of discarded plastic children’s toys, laundry baskets, flip-flops, orange plastic fencing, yellow construction hats, discarded auto parts and many other plastic items we all see in our daily travels and generally take for granted. Each of the six pieces is color coordinated, and they stand independently of each other. The interesting sculptures add color and interest to an otherwise unassuming, overgrown field near the street corner where they are located.

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Orange Art Piece_6362

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Over in the North Corktown neighborhood is a bicycle sculpture that runs the length of a sidewalk. It is made of 10 bikes, all aligned single file as if they are following each other. However these bikes start off in one piece as they move forward from one to the next, each slowly deteriorates, as if they have been hit by a car or something. All of the bikes in the sculpture piece are monochromatic silver and all look to be ordinary road bikes that have been reclaimed for the installation.

Bicycle Art Sculpture _6264

Over at the Grand River Creative Corridor, amid a hotbed of graffiti and colorful wall murals, stands a white horse. It’s a simple, beautifully proportioned white horse made of plywood. It’s called “Of Course, Of Course.” Sitting atop the horse is a nude female rider, and that makes me wonder if this piece may have been be modeled after Lady Godiva. The unassuming, simple piece looks at ease in the tall grass field where it stands.

OF Course - Horse_6263

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On Woodward Avenue near McNichols Road in Detroit there is an older two-story apartment, or maybe a former hotel, that has fallen into disrepair. Many of the windows are boarded, and most of the doors are either gone or open to trespassers. The second level of the compact place has a balcony that spans the length of the building, a perfect spot for those who once lived there to sit and watch the traffic roll by on Woodward Avenue. It’s obvious the place has not been in use for quite some time.

In spite of the rundown condition of the building, there has been some unusual activity at the old place. Not the normal things one might expect to see at a derelict building, such as securing it, rehabbing it, or preparing it for demolition. Strangely enough, someone has mounted four scarecrow-looking people along the railing of the second story outdoor patio. The four of them all have the same clownish looking face, but each is uniquely dressed in bright colorful clothes.

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The four characters are drooped over the railings in a hangman fashion. Although all have the same smiling clown face and are dressed differently, everything about them seems to say sadness and loneliness. It’s as if they are hanging their heads in shame. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but think of the characters found in the horror movie, “Night of the Living Dead” or other cultish B films.

Kind of creepy looking characters

Kind of creepy looking characters

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