The first murals known to man go back to Paleolithic times as cave paintings. Then, around 1300, in Italy, with new methods of muraling, “frescos” like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel work advanced the process. Fast forward to “modern” times, and muraling is aligned with Mexican artists, such as David Siqueiros, José Orozco and of course, Diego Rivera.
And the Mexican aspect of this media is dominant in South Toledo, on Broadway, between South Ave. and downtown. Drive/bike/walk that area to witness buildings adorned with bright, vibrant depictions of heroes such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr, as well as abstract renderings – along with a couple of flat out psychedelic visuals.
This intentional project (as opposed to random graffiti in other places around town) emanates from one source: the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center, located in the middle of it all, on Broadway. The Center “serves as an oasis for neighborhood residents and local artists. . . providing interest, awareness, and education about Latino art, heritage, and culture,” according to the website. Their vision “aims to nurture and enhance the creative abilities of all people through and emphasis on Latina and Latino art and culture.”
Sofia Quintero, the daughter of migrant farm workers, who settled in the Toledo area, was the first Latina to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education, eventually becoming its President. The SQACC, founded in 1996, was named in her honor.
From Peru and BGSU
The breathtaking portraits of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr and renowned labor leader and civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez are done by Mario Acevedo Torero, a muralist and internationally renowned Peruvian artist. Using a palette of colors that is utterly astounding, integrating bright greens, yellows and a splash of bright purple, Torero, who resides in San Diego, got involved through the insight of.Gordon Ricketts, Senior Lecturer @ BGSU School of the Arts (“art teacher,” he humbly asserts). Ricketts’ students had visited San Diego to work with their professor”s friend and colleague, Torero. When Torero travelled to Toledo/BG, as a visiting artist, the two were driving in South Toledo when, Ricketts said, “the light bulb went on over my head.” From that idea, BGSU students have put paint to wall, along with many other artists, including The Organization of Latino Artists.
Ricketts, who eventually was titled the “Producer” of the murals’ project, tells how in the early days, there were always a few hoops to jump through to get the murals up. Carrying a valise of permits and required paperwork, Ricketts says the artists usually worked undercover of night – raising eyebrows of the neighbors. “They thought we were graffiti artists,” he says. “But we were all on ladders, with bright lights shining on us!”
Colorful building and neighbors
The Chavez and MLK portraits— painted in 2014— carry political overtones. “We painted a mural on Toledo’s East side of an AIDS virus,” Ricketts said. “Nobody knows what it is, but it’s there.” But there’s always an element of Latino history/symbolism in the murals.. Talking with Taylor Burciaga, the Executive Director of the Center, Ricketts explains that he would like to add a park with grass, benches and lighting by the mural, underneath the I-75 overpass. “I always thought that was the next step,” he said. “People have been taking their wedding pictures there, school groups are getting together there…”
Ricketts points out that the mural-rich stretch of Broadway is one of several Toledo locations adorned with wall artistry. “Danny Thomas Park, which is about a mile and a half down the road has a beautiful mural, and there’s another one at a nearby grocery store.”
Burciaga notes the change in the neighborhood. “SQACC has been here 20 years and the staff are working really hard to let people know. Even after 20 years, people don’t exactly know why we’re here or what we do. But they’ll say ‘I drive through there to go to work,’ and they recognize us as “Oh you’re the colorful buildings, you’re the colorful paintings!’ One thing they grab is part of an identity.”
So head down to Broadway to view these murals. Your sense of creative expression and Toledo pride will thank you.