With signs in neon lights, fire hydrants that resemble anything but, and murals and metal sculptures abound, it’s a safe bet to say that The Grove neighborhood is one that thrives heavily on appearance. Much of its open and colorful aesthetic can be attributed to Grace McCammond, an artist who has been creating murals and adding color to fire hydrants and signal boxes in the neighborhood for the past nine years.
“If it holds still pretty much I’ll paint it,” she says.
She’s the brush behind some of the neighborhood’s most iconic images: the five piece band playing in the streetlights in the “Groovin’ in the Grove” mural at Newstead and Manchester; the annualy-updated "Tour De Grove" mural; and the “Wall of Fame” mural that celebrates native sons and daughters like Nelly, Maya Angelou, and Katherine Dunham. These three murals in particular were created as part of a collaboration with students at the Adams Park branch of the Greater St. Louis Boys and Girls Club, and now McCammond and the Club are creating a fourth that will be painted onto a building at the corner of Forest Park and Manchester. The latest mural focuses on chess, a sport that has taken St. Louis by storm in recent years. Students from the Club helped plan everything from the color scheme of the gold and silver pieces to the teddy bear, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Rock ‘em-Sock ‘em chess pieces. The painted black and white board will “extend” from the brick wall to the sidewalk, allowing people to “step into the mural” and move about as if they are chess pieces themselves, says McCammond,
“They just have an energy and a way of looking at the world that is fresh and new…and to be able to see the world through eyes that still see hope and possibility is wonderful.” The students began sketching on the wall last week; the entire process will take 3-4 weeks, by McCammond's estimate.
Putting yourself into a work of art is something that continues to resonate long after the piece is finished, McCammond says.
“I’ve had kids come back who’ve worked on Grove Fest murals seven, eight years ago... and they still know what scale they painted on the dragon,” she says. “It’s very rare that you get to find out that what you do actually affects people, and for people to be able to say “I did that”... is an amazing and wonderful thing to be able to give people that sense of being a part of.”
The mural will follow a paint-by-numbers format, says McCammond, and, with the students participation, should be completed by the end of May.
The project is a way for artists of all passions and skill set to contribute – kind of like how music speaks to McCammond, she says. “I love to sing. I am awful at it. But I was allowed to sing in the choir. For me, paint by numbers is allowing the choir to paint.”
I will never be a soloist. Most of the time I won’t even sing ‘Happy Birthday’ out loud. But I was allowed to sing in the choir, and it filled the space in me that needed that interaction. And that’s what I want the murals to do.”