Funded by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, Kathryn Pannepacker’s Wall of Rugs No. 1 represents textile traditions from 42 countries and cultures. Her assistants on the project were Angela Crafton, Theodore Harris and Michael Schwartz. (Photo by Anna Wolf.)
I visited Philadelphia for the first time back in February. On assignment for American Craft magazine, I met with textile artist Kathryn Pannepacker. The day we drove around North Philly was frigid, but Kathryn is one of the warmest people I've had the pleasure of meeting. When we stopped to look at her mural pieces, she'd say hello to people who passed us on the street. Pannepacker's Wall of Rugs are woven into the community, illustrations of history, culture, and technique.
Here's a bit:
Pannepacker knows this intersection well. Over summer and fall she worked daily on the 115-foot-long mural—each of the 18 diamond plate steel panels, which separate the roadway from the train tracks, represents a textile from a different country. Her Wall of Rugs #1, located on two corners at the intersection of Girard and Belmont Avenues, was completed in 2005. Five hundred feet long, the seven-foot-high hand-painted mural ambitiously features over 40 countries. Both artworks were commissioned and funded by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, an organization dedicated to making art accessible to a general public and the force behind the 2,800 murals that can be found dotting the city’s landscape.
North Philly is a gritty neighborhood, and a cold winter day amplifies a certain desolation. But beyond the debris and weathered buildings there’s life and a diverse culture. Pannepacker’s mural is not an urban ills cleanup campaign. Local stories are woven into the Wall of Rugs project. A Sunoco employee brought Pannepacker a photograph of an embroidered fabric from his native Bangladesh. Adam Alli, a West African artist who works long hours at the car wash, keeps an eye on the mural, and suggested Niger’s black-and-tan printed patterns. Designs from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Mongolia show up in Wall of Rugs #2, each linked to a person who stopped to talk to Pannepacker about her work. Used as floor or wall coverings, rugs have historically marked out space, both domestic and spiritual—nomadic tents lined with kilim carpets or cathedrals hung with tapestries. In Pannepacker’s hands, a global collection of rugs makes a windswept thoroughfare feel more like home.