Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor Art’

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!



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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.

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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!

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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.


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Detroit’s North End neighborhood is an interesting place full of history. It’s an old section of the city where residential and industrial areas seem to intersect. It’s also a good-sized neighborhood that radiates about two miles around the intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue.

Bicycling through the streets of this old, historic neighborhood, I was struck by the contrast between the industrial area south of East Grand Blvd. and the farm like feel north of the Blvd. Like other areas of Detroit, it’s a tale of two neighborhoods within its borders.

The neighborhood’s south boundary area has a gritty, hard edged, industrial feel to it. There are expansive brick buildings throughout that were constructed in the 1920’s. Heavy-duty steel structures that support train tracks cut through that section of the neighborhood too. Many of the buildings once housed machine shops that fed parts into the burgeoning auto industry. Thankfully, many of those old storied buildings have now taken on a new life.

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

Many of the small manufacturing businesses that have survived the ups and downs of Detroit’s automotive industry over the decades can still be found along the old streets, but change seems to be coming. Young artists and others have been converting the vintage brick buildings found along the densely packed, narrow streets into residential lofts, art studios, performance spaces, etc.

This old building has been converted to residential  lofts

This  building has been converted to residential lofts

Tangent Art Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Tangent  Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Restored apartment building

Restored apartment building

The artists that have moved into the old places on the south side of East Grand Boulevard have created colorful exteriors paintings on the buildings. The large wall paintings seem to glow brightly in the early morning sunrise and late evening sunsets. The wall art offers a pleasing, uplifting contrast to the harsh industrial feel in that section of the neighborhood.

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this tall building

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this building

Colorful art can be seen on many North End buildings

There is colorful art on many North End buildings

On the north side of the Boulevard there is virtually no industry. The streets, once lined with homes full of families and viable retail businesses, have changed dramatically over time. With the city’s massive population exodus and other factors, many of the businesses have closed and homes have been abandoned. Now most of the vacant homes and abandoned businesses have been cleared. The lots where they once stood are now fields of tall, wild plants turning many sections of the north side of the Boulevard into soothing, country like fields.

Community and religious organizations have moved into that area and are creating community gardens. Some cover close to a full block of land. City parks have been adopted and revitalized, and when I recently rode past one, it was in use by families and kids of all ages.

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

The North End is an interesting neighborhood. It offers plenty of diversity in architecture, lifestyles, and landscape. It seems every street I rode down and every corner I approached offered a sense of togetherness and vitality. It’s good to see that the city’s North End is coming back to life.

One of many murals in the North End

Mural in the North End

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful restored doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

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It’s no secret that Detroit has an abandoned house problem. Since the city filed for bankruptcy, the abandoned, blighted homes seem to be the main focus of many national news outlets. Contrary to what’s being shown or written about by the outlets, there are plenty of viable neighborhoods in the city where people care about their homes and strive to maintain and restore them to their past glory.

Woodbridge Street_8451One such place is the Historic Woodbridge Neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located just off Grand River Avenue near West Warren Avenue, about two miles northwest of the city’s center. It’s a good-sized neighborhood with hundreds of 100-year-old homes that have been, or are in the process of, being restored.

B&B On Trumbull_8476

3 Story Queen Ann Woodbridge_8458

The charming old neighborhood is full of two-and three-story Victorian era homes and apartment buildings constructed of wood or brick. Most were built between 1870 and 1900. There are a variety of architectural styles represented there including Queen Anne, Romanesque, Second Empire and others that were popular at that time. The tree-lined streets of this quaint neighborhood (in particular Commonwealth and Avery) are filled with the historic places, and many are painted in period colors.

Queen Anne_8430

Romanesque Style Home_8442

Second Empire_8450

In addition to the large, beautiful homes found there, the neighborhood has a relaxed small-town feel to it. I’ve ridden through this tight-knit community plenty of times over the years, and I’m always impressed with its sense of community. It’s one of those densely populated Detroit neighborhoods where people seem to know their neighbors and take the time to stop and talk to each other.

Like many stable Detroit neighborhoods, Woodbridge is home to a diverse group of residents. There are artists living in the community that have installed sculptures in community gardens and have painted alley walls in vibrant colors. Due to its close proximity to Wayne State University, college students live in many of the area’s apartment buildings and flats. It’s also a place where families with small kids, in strollers or in-hand, take leisurely walks along the sidewalks. It’s not uncommon to see older folks out walking dogs, waving to others sitting on a large porch as well.

Woodbridge Sculpture _8464

Bike Sculpture Woodbridge_8469

Flatroof 2-unit brick Apartment_8465

Quaint old neighborhoods like Woodbridge can be found across the city. They offer a refreshing contrast to what the national and local media coverage seems to show on a regular basis.

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There are plenty of railroad tracks that crisscross the city of Detroit. The long trains carry auto parts, rolls of steel, chemicals, cars from the auto factories, and many other manufactured goods. It’s not unusual to see the trains with two engines chugging along pulling upwards of 100 cars. Judging by the markings and corporate logos on the trains I see rumbling past my front window, they come from all across the country, Canada and Mexico.

Riding around this big city on my bicycle, I noticed that most of the train tracks are elevated above the streets and roads. The tracks are held up by huge cement supports that straddle the centerline of the streets below. The arched supports stand at least 13 feet tall.

There are also smooth, thick cement walls supporting the overhead tracks that flank the sidewalks, and they run the length of the overpass. From what I see, the large flat, horizontal gray walls make perfect canvases for graffiti and street artists.

It seems that every railroad underpass I ride through has some sort of graffiti; whether it is quick hitting simple one-color signature tags, large colorful elaborate “burners”, picturesque murals, or other graffiti types. Three underpasses in Detroit’s midtown area have outstanding wall paintings and are worth seeking out for their unique designs and overall artistic execution.

The first is the Trumbull Street underpass just north of I-94. It features a geometric pattern in an endless array of colors. The well-designed, complex wall painting stretches the length of the underpass. The multi-colored, bright design elements are also incorporated on the center supports. The pattern almost looks three-dimensional.

Outer wall of the Trumbull Street underpass

Outer wall of the Trumbull Street underpass

Colorful supports and wall

Colorful supports and wall

Geometry played a big roll in the design

Geometry played a big roll in the overall design

Arches in contrasting colors

Arches in contrasting colors

One street over from Trumbull is Lincoln.  The railroad underpass walls and supports found there are covered in a variety of eye-catching, intricate graffiti art, stunning wall murals, simple tags, and stenciled images.  Most have been designed and painted by a number of Detroit’s finest street artists: Malt, Stori, Fel3000ft, Tead, and others.

A couple of pieces by graffiti artist fel3000ft

A couple of pieces by graffiti artist fel3000ft

An artist at work on the Lincoln Street underpass

An artist at work on the Lincoln Street underpass

The flooded underpass reflects the art on the arches and outer wall

The flooded underpass reflects the art on the arches and on one of outer walls

Graffito artists Malt and Patch Whiskey collaborated on this piece

Graffito artists Malt and Patch Whiskey collaborated on this Lincoln Street wall mural

A little further to the northeast is the Beaubien Street underpass. The art there consists of simple colors painted in 45-degree angles, much like a pyramid. Depending on the wall or support, the V-shaped angles start at street level and rise to the base of the overpass, or they start at the top and cascade down. The inner arches of the center supports feature red and white bars that remind me of piano keys. The overall theme of the design on this underpass seems to be transportation.

Entering the Beaubien Street underpass

Entering the Beaubien Street underpass

Trains painted on the outer wall as viewed through the arches

Train engines painted on the outer wall as viewed through the arches

Cars painted on the opposite outer wall as viewed through the arches

Cars painted on the opposite outer wall as viewed through the arches

Note the red bars in the arches

Note the red bars in the arches

This is just a sampling of some of the amazing art found on the walls of railroad underpasses in the city of Detroit. Take a look the next time you pass through them.

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