Hunting for Roxbury Murals
How I turned the streets of Roxbury into a free art museum on a snowy afternoon.
By Danielle Miller
Photo by Avani Mitra
A light snow drifted down the streets of Roxbury as I trudged past boarded-up windows and beaten-down fences. It had been almost an hour since I left the warm oasis of my dorm, and I was beginning to lose feeling in my left pinky toe. I searched the map on my phone, which was quickly losing battery. "Washington Street and Malcolm X Boulevard" I read aloud, eliciting a puzzled glance from the bundled woman shuffling past me. I squinted through the flurries to read the street sign up ahead, letting out a sigh of relief. Marching forward, I turned the corner to find exactly what I had been searching for.
Stretched across the worn brick side of The Silver Slipper restaurant, the "Faces of Dudley: Old and New" looked down into my soul. Melnea Cass, "First Lady of Roxbury," and celebrated civil rights activist, sits beside fellow Roxbury natives going about their days with expressions of welcoming ease. "What took you so long?" their brush-stroked faces seemed to ask me. The mural was originally painted by artist Mike Womble in 1995, with a 2015 update utilizing the additional talents of Caleb Neelon and Victor "Marka27" Quiñonez to refresh the faces that keep watch over Dudley Square.
"Faces of Dudley" was just the first stop on my self-proclaimed "Roxbury Mural Scavenger Hunt." Armed with the Boston Mural Map, a City of Boston initiative to document over 100 commissioned murals across all neighborhoods, I left Mrs. Melnea Cass and set off on my quest to find the many more pieces of artwork that Roxbury promised to display. Using the map was simple; its design presented an accessible trail map that was only complicated by my finicky phone screen and numb fingertips. As a bonus, each listed mural was connected to a blurb, providing titles, artist names, and a brief synopsis.
"Artists tell the stories of their communities through murals," writes the City of Boston on its page about the mural project. "More than any other public art form, murals are created mostly by community members responding to the present moment."
In this way, my scavenger hunt proves the benefits of living in this age of technological revolution. With the map acting as my docent, I turned the city streets into a Boston museum of art and cultural history. I spent time in an area I had never previously traveled, and gained knowledge of another community outside my safety net of Fenway/Back Bay.
Beneath the map is a promise to further expand the number of documented murals in the coming months. As this living, changing art installation continues to grow, Bostonians now have yet another reason to brave the chilly wind and witness the beauty of the city we call home.