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New Kensington mural to be dedicated Sunday

BRIAN C. RITTMEYER| Thursday, April 8, 2021 6:00 a.m.

A new mural brightening a gateway to New Kensington will be dedicated Sunday — providing the weather cooperates.

An unspooling roll of aluminum is a prominent feature of the mural, reflecting New Kensington’s history with Alcoa and it becoming known as the “Aluminum City.” The roll transitions into waterways that flow throughout the mural, said Tim Holler, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and director of the Community Arts & Reintegration Project.

Installation of the mural on the side of a building at Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue began this week.

Its dedication is set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, coinciding with the end of a community cleanup being held that day.

The rain date for the cleanup is April 18. If the cleanup is rained out, the mural dedication also will be rescheduled for that same date, Holler said.

The New Kensington mural is the second for the project. The first was dedicated in Mt. Pleasant in 2018.

The mural is on the Fourth Avenue side of the building that once housed Walt’s Deli across from Central City Plaza. Now part of Olde Towne Overhaul, a new business, Ashley’s Kitchen, is opening there April 22.

The three-story-tall mural, about 33 feet by 63 feet, consists of close to 100 panels, Holler said.

About half were painted by residents at a series of “paint days” held last year, while artist Bernie Wilke and other artists did the rest, Holler said.

Holler said the installation has been going smoothly.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be complete by Sunday,” he said. “There may be some spots that still need to be touched up.”

The cloth panels are being applied directly to the brick with an adhesive gel, Holler said. A sealant then will be put on top of the mural’s panels to protect them.

Holler said an anti-graffiti sealer will be applied to the base of the mural within reach, so if anybody does tag the mural, it will wash off.

That is somewhat ironic because the mural depicts a graffiti tag — “I (heart) Biff” — that had become well-known in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

The graffiti had been on the side of the former Metal Working Machinery Co. building on Freeport Road for at least 30 years. Resident Gail Lewis claimed to have tagged the wall in honor of her then-boyfriend, David Allen Cooper, who died in 1992.

Individuals represented in the mural include photographer Eddie Adams, whose historical marker unveiled in 2016 is directly across the street; New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw, who was killed in the line of duty in 2017; Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider; Michelle Thom, operations manager of Olde Towne Overhaul; and basketball player RicQuan Johnson.

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