An abstract artwork designed to complement a neighborhood's energy

By now you might have seen the bright Petworth mural in the alley next to Willow, Help-U-Sell and Petworth Citizen on Upshur Street. The mural was the brain child of Petworth residents Tom Pipkin and Rob Mandle. Tom and Rob wanted to add a little artwork and color to the neighborhood that would reflect and complement the community's energy, vibrance and sense of connection. 

Both are very active residents in DC and in Petworth in particular. Tom Pipkin has been a resident of the District for 20 years and has lived in Petworth for six of those years. One of the many things he's brought to Petworth is the Jazz Project series of free concerts. He lives with his wife Lucan and their daughters Quinn and Michaela, along with dog Fresco, on Allison Street. Rob Mandle lives in Petworth with his wife and two young sons and has been active in the community since he moved here many years ago. He has been involved in many community events, including launching the Grant Circle Social series, and served as an ANC Commissioner in 4C. 

Tom and Rob, along with Lucan Pipkin, are the minds behind the “Petworth Alliance,” a think tank-like group formed to find ways to increase community engagement, support pride of place and help Petworth residents feel like they live in a thriving neighborhood. Some of the ideas that have come from their group are the Petworth Community Farmers Market, the Celebrate Petworth Festival, the Petworth Jazz Project and other events. 

Their latest project, and the most visually permanent, is the Petworth mural along the alley wall at 843 Upshur St NW. 

“After the first Celebrate Petworth Festival last year,” explained Rob, “we thought we wanted a more permanent symbol of the energy of the festival and culture of Petworth.”

Tom Pipkin agreed with the street-art concept. “There’s been a growth — maybe it’s a resurgence — in using public spaces for art in urban areas,” said Tom. “Murals can be a simple and artistic statement that is very positive. We wanted something that helped instill pride, ownership in community. Art is a great way of doing that.”

After that, the idea of public artwork and a mural began to take form. 

The cost of the mural was covered by funds leftover from the first Celebrate Petworth festival. "We wanted to find a way to capture the vibrancy and excitement, the positive vibe that came out of the festival," said Rob. "We realized pretty early that a mural was a way to do that.”

Pipkin and Mandle began the process of looking for candidate walls in the neighborhood where a mural could ideally go. They ultimately picked the alley wall next to Willow and Help-U-Sell (next to Petworth Citizen) because it was located right in the middle of where events like the Festival, the Arts & Crafts Fair and others tend to occur. They approached Marc Dosik, who owns the building where the mural is located (as well as Help-U-Sell), and asked if he would be willing to let them use his building's wall for the mural. Dosik was quick to agree.

“Rob and Tom contacted me about the idea of putting a mural up on the wall,” said Marc. “I thought it was a fantastic idea. They mentioned they already had an artist in mind who they felt could inspire people about Petworth.”

Rob Mandle, Tom Pipkin and artist Juan Pineda before the mural went up. Courtesy Rob Mandle.

The artist they found was Juan Pineda, a local DC and Maryland artist who is well-known for his street art and murals. Juan has been painting in public spaces since the late 90s and has been recognized twice by the Washington Post for his restoration work and received an award from Hyattsville, Maryland for one of his murals.

"My inspiration for painting murals came from my early artistic background and introduction to graffiti later in my  teen years," Juan said.

“Juan was the right guy based on his style,” said Tom. “We knew we weren’t going to get 100% buy-in from everyone on the art, but Juan has a crisp, clean design that we thought would work very well.”

An early sketch of the logo. Courtesy Juan Pineda.

“We wanted to make sure we included the word Petworth in the design, and we wanted something playful and colorful,” said Rob. Pineda uses a very geometric design for his work that stands out, and it spoke to Tom and Rob as a great choice for this mural.

The two met with Pineda in the fall of 2014 and put together an artist’s agreement for the work (it includes fixing the design if it needs recoloring). Once the weather was right (and the recent construction on the building was completed), work on the mural began and took a few weeks to finish. 

Artist Juan Pineda poses next to the almost-finished mural.

"The concept design for the Petworth mural was a combination of graphic elements that I closely work with and are a part of my compositions with shapes and glyphs," said Juan, talking about the inspiration.

"I wanted to design something that resembled fun, and motion. Alleys tend to be dark and boring so I wanted to bring life to the alley," Juan said. "The people of Petworth are fun and the city is constantly moving forward and growing so, I translated that into a giant 'Vegas-style' street signage."

In considering upkeep and longevity (conservation and restoration of mural is something Juan is familiar with) he said that public murals can last a long time, but "It's up to the neighborhood to take care of it. Let's keep the alleys clean and lit!"

The mural is now featured on many people’s Facebook cover photos, and you see people posing in front of the wall to take a picture. It’s this idea of place that Tom and Rob thought would be a benefit to Petworth, to help people stay connected. And they’re hoping to do more. 

Rob said they’re now reaching out to other private land owners that might be willing to allow creative expression on their walls that face the public.

“We definitely want to do more spaces,” Tom said. “Murals like this can be connected to people’s direction and opinions about their community. No matter the age or demographic, a mural can have a wide appeal.”

About the Yoga photos: Naomi Gottlieb-Miller is a yoga teacher, ayurvedic healthier habits coach, transformation strategist and mama to an active 2 year old. Naomi is a DC native and has been teaching yoga in DC for the past 10 years. Naomi teaches at Lighthouse Yoga on 9th St NW in Petworth.

8/12 Edit: The article has been updated to reflect that funding for the mural was provided by donations to the Celebrate Petworth Festival and not a city grant.