To celebrate the 275th Birthday of the city a Reading, several artists and organizations combined efforts to involve the local community in a work of art that celebrates the year.
The project began when Laura Reppert, the coordinator for Reading’s 275 Celebration, discussed the possibilities with Michael L. Miller, Artist in Residence at Albright College. While Miller often organizes permanent art projects, “We decided to create a more ephemeral work of art that would be created and displayed to celebrate the year”.
The media for this project was created using silkscreen posters and portrait photography. Albright College professor and noted portrait photographer John Pankratz was brought on as a collaborator. For decades, Pankratz has invited local residents to his portrait events.
The design for the project features hundreds of portraits, taken at various locations throughout the city over the course of the year. Surrounding the portraits are silkscreened posters designed by local artists and the student artists of Reading Muhlenburg Career and Technology Center. Steve Simons, who directs the graphic design program at RMCTC, worked with Miller to guide the students through the design process.
The artwork is inspired by Reading landmarks, both historic and humble. The RMCTC students and Reading historians George and Gloria Meiser contributed possible ideas for the subjects that would be featured in the artwork.
Portrait and silkscreen workshops were offered at all the Reading Public Library branches, the Reading Fightins’ Stadium, and local events surrounding the birthday celebration in March. Pankratz and Miller explained the project and invited folks to participate by pulling a print or having a portrait photo taken.
The portraits and prints were arranged in a quilt-like pattern, and local artist Adam Serrano created an overall design for the work that simply states, “This is YOUR Story”. The original plan for the project was to wheat-paste the posters onto a wall of Reading’s downtown, but the project was later revised to display the work on recycled billboard wraps, making the three 8 ft. by 30 ft. banners transportable, allowing for pop-up displays in different locations.
In a temporary display, Alvernia University offered a space for the first public display of the project in conjunction with the 275th Birthday Parade on October 1st. The project was showcased at the corner of 4th and Penn Streets on the American House during the parade.
Miller says other pop-up displays of this artwork and other opportunities to participate in projects being created at the Public Art Workshop at Total Experience Learning at Albright College are in the works.