Art En Plein Air

Take a tour of some of Manayunk’s public works of art.
By Brian Anderson
Photography by JPG Photography (

There’s a lot to take in on a walk around Manayunk. There are the people, the dogs, the window displays, the bikers and runners, and the new restaurant you’ve been dying to check out.
But take another look. Did you really take in all of the art around you?
It’s true — Manayunk is filled with public art. You just need to know where to look. Here’s your guide to just a slice of the public art in the heart of Manayunk.

“Manayunk at Dusk” — Evan Lovett & Glossblack
You don’t see many deer in Manayunk, but you always do when you walk southeast on Main Street. Before long, you’ll encounter a few bucks and does on “Manayunk at Dusk.”
This huge mural, on the building that abuts the parking lot at 4000 Main Street, blends the city and its wildlife in a cool palette of purple and greens. In the extreme foreground is a buck while silhouettes of other deer stand next to trees and stumps.
“This design really fit this area,” Evan said. “We just wanted to have an impact.
Another Philly-based artist, Glossblack, filled the sky of the mural with every Manayunk street name in the neighborhood in different typefaces and in an array of purples and pinks. Set at dusk, the mural gives off its secrets in the light. Take a look at sundown and then again at sunrise and you’ll notice something different.
“The very 2D graphic nature of the typography blends really well with the 3D foreground,” Evan said.

“Manayunk Stoops: Heart and Home” — Diane Pieri
Along the towpath from Lock to Cotton Streets sit nine concrete stoops splashed with the colors of the rainbow. These mosaic stoops are the work of Philadelphia native Diane Pieri. They symbolize this neighborhood through each of their unique designs.
The stoops, installed in 2006, reach back to Manayunk’s industrial past and illustrate its connection to nature and wildlife. Diane says she engaged with children at North Light Community Center for inspiration and design — it’s why many of the stoops feature turtles, fish, and flowers.
“One of the signature things about Manayunk was all of these stoops. And if you didn’t have one, you made a stoop,” Diane said. And what do you do on a stoop? Sit and chat, of course.
“The stoops along the canal are really used. People sit on those. They eat lunch. They take a break while bike riding. They just relax,” she said. “It’s really great that this art project is being used. You’re sitting on a work of art.”

“Water Under the Bridge” — Beth Clevenstine & Paul Santoleri
Back when mills lined the canal, Fountain Street was known as having the freshest water. So it’s fitting the steps from Umbria Street to the Towpath and the canal represent flowing water.
The murals and mosaics up and down the steps are the work of Beth Clevenstine and Paul Santoleri. Paul said the topography of the towpath and the closeness of the canal influenced the design.
“I had a vision of doing a stained glass piece of the rises of the steps,” Paul said. “It would be like the flowing water.”
And he’s certainly right. The risers of the steps are whimsical, flowing mosaics of blues, greens, and whites. The murals on the walls are scenes of the river, mixed with reeds, turtles, and other aquatic life. And that’s really what the towpath has turned into — a place with runners, cyclists, and walkers connect with nature.
“It’s transiting back to a place that people can enjoy,” he said. “And that comes from the people who care about it.”

“Happy Trails” — Alloyius McIlwaine
Alloyius McIlwaine’s murals are big and bold. In Manayunk, his “Happy Trails” is more subtle but it’s distinctly his — bright and playful. “The world always needs some more color,” he said.
“Happy Trails” is painted on the underside of Manayunk Bridge on Green Lane. If you were a cyclist, you might stop and lean your bike against the bridge for a break. So what is “Happy Trails?” Three colorful bikers scooting their way up the hill.
“I simplified my style for that piece,” Alloyius said. “It was fun. It was really interesting.”
And the mural really speaks to the Manayunk experience. Alongside the bikers are words that perfectly describe Manayunk — nouns like community, outdoors, and trails, and verbs including amaze, shop, and play.
“In a lot of my pieces, I try to include some affirmation,” he said. “I like to put a lot of words in my pieces to give it something a bit more tangible.”

“Power Hearts” — Amberella
A bit of positivity goes a long way. That’s the message of Amberella’s “Power Hearts” that are scattered around Manayunk (and Philadelphia, for that matter). These affirmations, from “You Got This” to “Choose Love” to “Worthy,” can be that moment of joy after a long day.
“The messages are universal to everyone. People can sense authenticity,” Amberella said.
But you’ll have to look close for some of these black-and-white, candy-like Power Hearts. A lot of them are prominent on businesses and residences — check out The Wall Cycling Studio and The Isle Apartments, to begin your search.
Don’t be surprised if you see more Power Hearts pop up. Amberella always has a few in her trunk, so your next pick-me-up may be on it’s way to Manayunk any day now.

“Look Long & Look Good” — Mat Tomezsko
“How do you do a portrait of a whole community?” asked Mat Tomezsko, a Philadelphia native and the artist behind the 30 mural panels that make up “Look Long & Look Good.” These portraits feature ordinary people on an ordinary day, but there’s a secret of the faces looking back.
“A community is made up of individuals,” Mat said. “It’s a collective of the people that live in this neighborhood.”
The panels hang on buildings up and down Main Street (often at eye level, but sometimes you have to gaze up to spot one). The faces that stare back at you are from Manayunk’s past, present, and future.
For some panels, Mat picked faces out of the crowd from historical records he found at the Roxborough Library. Others panels showcase people Mat encountered while walking along Main Street. Finally, a number of panels feature children Mat met — they are the future of this neighborhood.
“You see one panel, and then you see another one,” Mat said. “I want you to be able to make that connection immediately.”