Above: At left and center: A before-and-after of Wendy Hatch’s mural “Conaty Park.” At right, Rachel VanWylen with her mural “On The Brandywine.”

Mural project brightens Trolley Square

By Leeann Wallett

What do Brandywine Park, bumblebees, and the Rockford Tower have in common? They are three of the 18 designs painted as part of the first-ever Trolley Square public utility mural project.

Managed by the Delaware Avenue Community Association and City Councilman Nathan Field of the Eighth District, the murals project is meant to “increase neighborhood spirit in Trolley Square and Forty Acres, and promote the area as an art destination,” says Field.

“The mural idea came after a productive discussion with the City of Wilmington’s Office of Cultural Affairs and the thought that Wilmington could solidify its reputation as the artistic cultural capital of Delaware,” he added. (A similar mural program took place several years ago in Old Brandywine Village, where nine murals were painted on utility boxes depicting Wilmington’s role in the Revolutionary War.)

The boxes are located throughout the Trolley Square neighborhood, one of the five neighborhoods Councilman Field oversees as part of the Eighth District. 

The surrounding neighborhoods boast a rich artistic landscape with the Delaware Art Museum, multiple art galleries, and the Schoonover Studios (a space used by students of Howard Pyle, including well-known tenants Frank Schoonover and N.C. Wyeth) all within a mile-wide radius.

Field found support and funds from Tsionas Management, Capano Management, and Incyte Corporation, to pay artists — $1,000 for large and $800 for small boxes, as well as a $100 stipend to cover mural supplies — to paint 14 public utility boxes. 

The application process was competitive. “There were more than 130 artist submissions for the 14 public utility boxes,” says Lisa Johnson, president of the Delaware Avenue Community Association. More than half of the submissions were from artists in the neighborhood. The artists ranged in age from 19 to 60 years old.

“The murals were selected by a blind panel process,” says Johnson. 

The process had to be because all the selection committee members including Field are residents of Trolley Square. “It would’ve been impossible not to personally know the artists,” says Johnson.

And, thanks to additional support from the City of Wilmington, the committee was able to expand its project to four additional utility boxes. In the end, there are 18 murals and 19 artists (one mural was painted by sisters).

One of the artists is Rachel VanWylen, an art teacher at Archmere Academy, who lives within walking distance of her mural, “On the Brandywine.”

Given the subject matter, a mural of Brandywine Park, VanWylen’s box was originally slated for a utility box at Conaty Park (at the entrance of Brandywine Park on Gilpin St.) but at the last minute was swapped with Wendy Hatch’s mural. 

“Hatch’s ‘Conaty Park’ mural made more aesthetic sense because the lines and shapes complemented the playground equipment,” says Johnson. 

VanWylen’s mural is now across from Pinji’s Café and Gianni’s Pizza and is a surrealistic piece that is “meant to be a dream-like vision of Brandywine Park during the four seasons,” says VanWylen. “We (artists) don’t give enough credit to the viewers,” she continues. “I wanted to stretch people’s minds.”

Another artist and resident, Joseph Repetti, originally sent in three designs — Canadian geese, monarch butterflies, and honeybees.

“I didn’t ask for a particular box, so I made sure all three designs followed the original request for proposal to create a mural that was ‘eye-catching’ whether it was seen on a bike or bus, on foot, or in a car,” says Repetti.

In the end, the committee selected Repetti’s honeybee design. “At that point, it was only a sketch in a book for my students,” he says.

Repetti’s utility box is located at N. Clayton St. and Pennsylvania Ave. across from the Westminster Presbyterian Church’s community garden, only blocks from his house on N. Clayton Street.

Repetti, an art teacher at West Park Place Elementary School, Newark, spent 30 hours over three weekends creating his mural.

“I had 20 to 30 people stop by during the mural process,” says Repetti. One of the highlights during the painting was when President Joe Biden waved from his motorcade. “A CNN analyst (as part of the Presidential press pool) even stopped to document and take photos for Instagram,” he says.

And while this project ends, this is only the first of many public art projects Field has in the works for the Eighth District.

 “This was a small project that I hope will kickstart future, larger public art projects for Trolley Square and Forty Acres,” he says.

— Follow along on social media using the hashtag: #TrolleySquareArt and #AroundTrolleySquare. Learn more about the artists, Rachel Van Wylen at rachelvanwylen.com; and Joseph Repetti at repettiart.com.

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