Wings Over Avondale


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Annalee Uptain, bar manager at Melt, leads the fundraising efforts to restore the murals, painted by local artist Marcus Fetch. Photo by Beau Gustafson

An act of vandalism at a popular Avondale restaurant brings a community together.

By Joe O’Donnell

It is just a painting on a wall, but it became a touchstone for the renaissance of a once-neglected neighborhood. Patrons of Melt Birmingham, the Avondale restaurant opened by Harriet Reis and Paget Pizitz, loved to take pictures in front of the colorful angel wings painted on a wall where people waited outside for tables. The mural was created by Marcus Fetch and Blank Space Birmingham, along with a handful of other recent murals by the group that have added a pop of color to the cityscape.

v51a7613_ppOn Tuesday, January 16, three of these murals were defaced on 4th Avenue South at 41st Street (MELT), on 1st Avenue North and 39th Street, and on 1st Avenue South at 56th Street. The people behind the vandalism remain unknown, but the acts have created a wave of sentiment that speaks to the power of community and shared spaces such as restaurants that bring vitality to our streets.

Create Birmingham has begun a fundraising initiative to restore the murals. Melt Birmingham hosted a fundraiser on January 25 to help in the effort. The estimated cost of restoring the murals is $15,000.

“Harriet and I are so dismayed that someone would even think to vandalize such a beautiful and interesting work of art,” says Paget Pizitz. “Not only have these angel wings become an iconic part of Avondale, but of Birmingham as a whole. These wings were a gift from the kind and generous Eason family. They love what Avondale has become and what we have done for the community.  These angel wings brought joy and smiles to more families and children than I can count. With one senseless act, that has been taken away and for what seems to be absolutely no good reason. (But) Marcus Fetch, the artist, says it best: This will only unite our community even more. We will be better and stronger as a result.

“These are words that Harriet and I truly believe,” Pizitz continues. “We choose to ignore the negative chatter and focus on the positive, which is that our community has a strength and unity unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It makes us proud to live in Birmingham.”

The founder of Redemptive Cycles, a nonprofit that provides affordable bicycles for those in need, Marcus Fetch began creating public art in 2014 in efforts to clean up the neglected area of town the bike shop was located in. Through metal art sculptures and back alley murals, he eventually found a new passion in public art.

“Murals and public art are one of the defining factors of what makes a city original,” Fetch says. “It sets it apart from every other town. It is just the vibrancy and the life. Buildings primarily are these mundane, boring colors. But then you can drive down the road and out of nowhere comes this amazing vibrant color. People love murals. It just brings life to the spirit of the city. And the ones you can interact with are just so much fun. Good murals in a town can become really strong landmarks. I love the power of all that,” he says.

With his strong feelings about the power of murals, the vandalism was that much harder to take.

“It’s possible that the person who did this to the murals wanted to target me, but it is sad that they were really targeting a lot of people in the community. When I first found out about it, I was super sad, super bummed, trying to figure out who did it and why. We still don’t know. But what was amazing was seeing a couple of days after the whole city rally behind it. Be supportive and passionate. Hundreds of calls and emails saying they were sorry and we loved that mural so much. Then tons of people were posting pictures of themselves with the mural. That was amazing. It gave me more spirit than ever,” Fetch says.

The organization that Fetch is a part of is Blank Space Birmingham, an organization whose goal is to create public art. Their mission statement reads in part:

“Public art is many things, but at its core, it is an intervention into space. It reclaims and recovers our public spaces from the grasp of homogenous and mundane development. It battles against the often-demanding voice of advertising, beckoning us to dream instead of just buy. It brightens our blight, and champions our communities. Public art can showcase collective neighborhood identities, and boost the growth of local economies. Public art is more than paint on a wall.”

More than paint on a wall, it is part of what makes our city alive.

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