Artist Mat Tomezsko’s banners displayed around Tacony are meant to evoke a sense of familiarity in the area.
Many of them may not realize it, but the people of Tacony are surrounded by art.
The community’s aesthetic qualities may not be obvious to the casual eye, but they’re present nonetheless in the subtle lines, shapes and icons adorning the neighborhood’s celebrated landmarks such as the Disston Saw Works, St. Leo’s Church, Disston Memorial Church, Carnegie-style library and Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
Professional artist Mat Tomezsko tapped into all of those pleasing images as well as the raw talent of dozens of local residents in the latest neighborhood beautification project to emerge from the Tacony Library and Arts Building recently. On July 26, Tomezsko joined community leaders and sponsors to debut 44 colorful banners that have been posted on lampposts along the Torresdale Avenue business corridor.
“What Mat has done in his banners, that’s a different way of expressing community arts,” City Councilman Bobby Henon said during an unveiling ceremony. “Mat has done a great job with these banners as symbols of what Tacony represents.”
Collectively, the banners are the fourth work of public art to emerge from the Tacony LAB. Henon’s office established the LAB in June 2016 in partnership with the city’s Mural Arts program and the Free Library. The LAB occupies a former hardware store at 6918 Torresdale Ave. and has served as a temporary public library site during an 18-month renovation and expansion to the nearby Tacony Branch.
The LAB has also hosted Mural Arts’ community engagement programs since its opening. Tomezsko served as an artist-in-residence at the LAB for 12 weeks. During a series of open painting classes, community members created colorful foundations for the lamppost banners by applying acrylic paint to paper using a drag technique.
Meanwhile, Tomezsko scouted the neighborhood for striking shapes he used to create stencils for framing residents’ work in a familiar, yet perhaps subliminal manner.
“It was great getting to know the neighborhood. It’s a very special place and this was a wonderful project to be part of,” the artist said. “We took things that are very familiar to residents and made them unfamiliar.”
Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who travel Torresdale Avenue may view the banners and recognize the distinctive silhouettes of the gothic arches of St. Leo’s, the keystone logo of the saw works or the triangle and “X” patterns of the 88-year-old bridge. There are grindstones, clovers and the outline of Frank Shuman’s pioneering solar engine.
But viewers may also find themselves stricken by deja vu, unable to place the mysteriously abstract images.
“I wanted them to be something you notice and then you go around looking for more,” Tomezsko said.
The neighborhood’s Community Development Corporation, Historical Society and Civic Association all provided ideas and inspiration to the effort. CDC Director Alex Balloon thinks the artist blended sentimentality with the neighborhood’s modern aspirations of progress.
“Mat has done a great job capturing the spirit of the place in a forward-thinking way,” Balloon said.
In recent years, dozens of local businesses have taken advantage of a storefront improvement program, while the neighborhood has hit other “transformational milestones,” Balloon said, with investments in new housing and public safety, along with avenue cleaning efforts and public art displays.
“It’s symbolic of the momentum we have here — I’m going to call it the Tacony momentum,” Henon said. ••
William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.