Just wrapped up the RamZelle Mural located on Kedzie at the intersection of Belmont in the Avondale Community of Chicago. Some folks have asked why this mural is named as it is. At a root level, the name of the piece is a combination of Ram and Gazelle. But there is more to it than that.
When approached by the Avondale Neighborhood Association to come up with concept artwork to be put on the facing Kedzie walls, the only request was that I think of a way to relate my output to reflect that of the community. Since I grew up in the Avondale area, I know first hand that it is a unique area of Chicago and the community has a way of etching itself into the folks that make it up.
While drawing and thinking of concepts, I started writing down a series of words in an attempt to get to the one word that was the essence of a full description of Avondale. Going back to my notes I had a long list that included the following: Strength, Grit, Perseverance, Ambition, Resilience, Hardiness, Motivating, Persistence, Tenacity, Diligence, Dedication, Commitment, Fortitude, Dignity, Honor, Passion, Vitality, Grace, Poise, Elegance, Finesse, Flexibility, Decency, Agility, Tact, Respect and Flexibility.
I had many more defining words and was able to cross out quite a few. But try as I might, I just could not eliminate any of the above words in my search for the all-encompassing word to define Avondale and what it taught me over time in the years I resided there in my youth.
It struck me as I reviewed the words scrawled in my notebook that on one end of the spectrum there were power words, and on the other end, words of eloquence. This discovery lead me to find a spirit animal to represent Avondale, but again, the defining words showed the unique duality of the area. So I realized that just one iconic animal would not do, and I elected to portray the power words using rams and the words of eloquence with gazelles.
Featured prominently in many ancient societies, the ram has been a long held symbol of determination, action, initiative, and leadership. In a standoff, a ram holds its ground for what it believes is right — all the while being true and direct in its approach. Conversely, gazelles are known to be striking, impressive and graceful. A Gazelle can quickly assess a situation and eloquently elude confrontation or danger with grace, a clever strategy to survive another day and to win the battle at a later date. After settling on the two animals, I circled back to my notebook and chose to represent each word in 27 unique totems shared on this mural and its sister mural across the street. Hence, RamZelle.
I would like to thank property owner Metra for allowing me to put up a new piece of art on this viaduct underpass. I would also like to thank Emily Taylor and the rest of the Avondale Neighborhood Association for working to secure me a location. Emily worked tirelessly through approvals to make this project happen and can not be applauded enough for her effort. A special nod to Alderman Carlos Rosa for approving my artwork in Chicago’s 35th Ward.
Deep gratitude to the Public Art Trust and Shannon Kemp Passero for facilitating and funding this project with special acknowledgement to Valspar Paints for providing paint for this project via a generous donation. Mega-appreciation to Daniel Pogorzelski for coming by to help out and keep me company in the late hours of the project. Thanks to Natalia Sustaita for lending a hand with color filling one day. Finally a very heartfelt thank you to fellow artist Jerry Z. Rogowski. While the design and concept may be mine, Jerry is always ready and willing to aide me in the execution, and I am extremely grateful for his time and talent.
Finally, I am dedicating this mural to Joseph Kaput. Joe is the person I have known longest in my life (aside from my sister). Ironically, we first met 45 years ago, in the Avondale grade school, Scammon Elementary, and we have been friends ever since. A friendship enhances the good in life and more importantly it tone downs the bad. To find a real friend in a lifetime is good fortune, to maintain the friendship over time is a blessing, and I have been blessed to have Joe as a friend. Joe has never been a friend who nods when I nod, as he knows full well my shadow does that much better. He clearly walks his own path, but often I find that path merges with mine and when it does I always enjoy the company. When two people meet as boys and grew side-by-side to men, their roots have a tendency to be tangled. In the case of my friendship with Joe I’m glad for this.