By: Sophia Naughton, Staff Writer
Photo Courtesy of David Riley
Lining the streets of the Uptown district is the work of six female artists known as the “flower box women.” “I love you”, “Nalingi Yo”, “Te Amo.” These are all phrases that artist Oliver James painted on her second planter box for Towson Creative Partnership’s “Boxes and Blooms” project.
The Towson Chamber of Commerce was given a Community Legacy Grant in 2019 that funded public art projects for Uptown Towson. From there, “Boxes and Blooms” started, calling for artists to submit designs and be a part of the effort.
James had her first mural painting experience when a different project started with the “Butterfly Mural” in Knollwood. The Butterfly Mural was her first public art commission. Since then, she has returned to Towson to paint five planter box murals.
“It gave me the confidence to keep pursuing murals,” James said about her first project. “And hopefully, that mural has brought joy to the people that have seen it. I am grateful to David Riley and Deirdre Aikin for giving me that chance because it was the start of my career as a muralist.”
James expressed that the most important part of being an artist happens behind the scenes. With Towson, she focused on details like the native Monarch butterfly and the peppers of the Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro to influence her imagery on her murals.
“I like to connect to the messages behind murals through research and understanding how the world or the community is feeling emotionally,” says James. “This was the case for the ‘I Love You’ planter box. Putting love out into the world is important and doing the research to write it in as many languages as possible was my way of trying to reach as many people as possible.”
James has gone on to work on the Banneker-Douglass Museum “Black Vote Mural” project and was one of the leading artists on the museum’s “Breonna Taylor Ground Mural” project.
“All the murals that I have done in Towson have had a huge impact on my career,” James said. “Now that everything is on social media, it allows for other people to see my work and invite me to do similar projects, so that’s always amazing.”
Camila Leão, artist of the boba-themed flower box outside of Kung Fu Tea, is a Brazilian artist who recently moved to Maryland. She is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator who has toured Brazil and the U.S. with her bands Futuro and The Pessimists. When a friend showed her the Boxes and Blooms program in Towson, she was eager to get started.
“I immediately had so many ideas racing through my head,” Leão said. “I reached out to the Towson Creative Partnership and was fortunate to become a part of the team of artists.”
Leão has painted four flower boxes and is also involved with painting the BGE utility boxes that are the next step in the “Boxes and Blooms” project. This piece is located in front of the Baltimore County Historic Courthouse on Washington Avenue.
The artists had an unconventional studio for this project: the sidewalks of Towson. This project was coming to life amidst the hustle of locals and college students who seemed to enjoy this change of scenery on their daily commutes.
“It’s humbling to see my art as part of people’s everyday lives,” said Leão. “One person even told me that she would change her regular route so she could walk by one of my boxes.”
Leão uses her art to spread positivity and mindfulness. She believes murals contrast an otherwise dull city life as they did in her hometown, São Paulo, Brazil.
“I always appreciated when I spotted colorful art that evoked some kind of a feeling that transported me out of the dull concrete environment,” said Leão. “In the case of my work in Towson, I want to instill a sense of vibrant optimism.”
Paige Orpin is one of the contributing artists of the “Boxes and Blooms” project. Her work is scattered around Baltimore businesses such as skateboard designs for VU Skateboard Shop and murals for The Sinclair Baltimore and T.C. Prints.
“It doesn’t matter where art is implemented, it makes people happy and that makes me happy,” said Orpin.
Orpin is used to coming across challenges when painting murals with the condition of the surface she is painting on. Orpin said the flower boxes were nice to work with because of the smooth canvas they provided. She said her designs on the flower boxes came from murals that she never got the chance to create.
Orpin said people are often disappointed when they find out that her designs have little meaning behind them.
“If you look at any of my murals and see a whale or a face, or feel some type of deep, underlying emotion – I can pretty much guarantee you that it was unintentional on my end,” said Orpin. “I do what I do because I enjoy it, and I’ve come to learn that other people do, too.”
The pandemic prevented the artists from meeting in person, but they managed to make connections through social media and through sharing this experience.
“It was a wonderful experience being able to collaborate with the other artists who come from such diverse backgrounds,” said Leão. “After the project, I took a walking tour of all of the flower boxes and really appreciated the different styles and how they all presented together.”
This project opened many doors for the artists’ future projects. After moving to Maryland from Brazil, “Boxes and Blooms” was one of Leão’s first projects that she was invited to be a part of. She was able to make many connections in the area because of it.
For more information about the “Boxes and Blooms” project visit Towson Creative Partnership’s website.