It takes a village – and a lot of paint A mural of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, an abolitionist from New Haven, was recently completed at Possible Futures bookstore on 318 Edgewood Ave. Words and Photos by Chloe Edwards

Buckets of paint sit atop a wooden table while painters work two stories overhead.

The music and the mural in progress cause the cars below to slow to a stop as they approach the scene.

This past Monday, a mural of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a prison abolitionist from New Haven, was completed at 318 Edgewood Ave. Despite its significant level of detail, the mural was finished in 15 days, a turnaround that would not have been possible without sustained community contribution.

“Choreographing so many people together and meeting so many people has been inspiring,” project manager Gavriel Cupita-Zorn GRD ’22, who is pursuing a doctorate in American Studies, told the News. “It’s taught me a lot, but it also feels like it’s transforming each of us in a really beautiful way.”

The mural of Gilmore adorns the exterior of Possible Futures, a local bookstore run by Lauren Anderson.

The concept for the mural began with conversations between members of the intergenerational abolition project, a group that met at Possible Futures regularly.

“I was a part of that group and part of the small contingent of people who kind of got together and helped to shape that idea,” Anderson told the News.

Approaching Possible Futures from Edgewood Avenue, visitors see the first wall of the mural — “New Haven’s political past,” as Gavriel described it. On this facade is the history of New Haven: photos from Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s life, stills from the early abolition movement, plants native to the Connecticut marshlands and the silhouettes of birds in flight.

Also on this side of the bookstore is a quote from Gilmore that says: “We can make freedom out of what we have.”

Photos by Chloe Edwards

The second wall of the mural, seen approaching the bookstore from Hotchkiss Avenue, is the city’s “abolitionist future,” Gavriel said. A portrait of Gilmore takes center stage in rich purple and yellow hues.

The nature motif seen on the first wall continues around the corner as the larger-than-life flowers, sandplain gerardia, grow up toward Gilmore, adding to the liveliness of the portrait.

The full portrait spans the height of the wall; in it, Gilmore exudes a calm confidence as she gazes down at the viewer, arms crossed in front of her chest.

Gilmore currently researches abolition geography, which is also the title of her collection of essays describing the path toward liberation. Abolition geography puts place at the center of discussions on how racial capitalism operates in what Gilmore refers to as “anti-state states.”

Gilmore is currently a professor at the City University of New York, where she teaches Earth and environmental studies as well as American studies. Gilmore received her doctorate in economic geography and social theory from Rutgers University.

The lead artist for the mural was Jess X. Snow who worked closely with Ruth Wilson Gilmore while conceptualizing the design.

Snow is known for their socially conscious murals, having created multiple murals in New York. Some recent murals of Snow’s are “In The Future, Our Asian Community is Safe” — which is part of a series that was produced by Wing on Wo Projects, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute — as well as a muralist portrait of Safia Elhillo, a Sudanese migrant and poet, for the seventh annual O+ Festival.

Executing the mural was a community-wide effort from the very start. At the mural’s outset, members of the Edgewood neighborhood received a form that asked questions such as: “What colors would you like to see in a mural in our neighborhood? What feelings or emotions do you hope a mural in our neighborhood would generate?”

The long list of names next to the mural lists all of the people who helped make the mural possible. The contributors include volunteers, educators and artists, each bringing their own unique set of skills to the project.

Photos by Chloe Edwards

One volunteer, Rebecca Flores Harper, studied studio art at Middlebury College. Harper is now director of equity and community at Hopkins School, a private school in New Haven that serves seventh to 12th graders.

“As an artist, I’ve always absolutely loved community artwork,” Harper told the News. “We don’t have to pay anything for the public to see this and I think that’s so important and critical to art.”

Harper also touched on the cultural significance of muralism, referring to the work of Diego Rivera: a Mexican artist who popularized the muralism movement with his frescoes. Frescoes are the blueprints for modern muralism.

Rather than paint on brick, frescoes were done with watercolor on wet plaster; this meant they had to be done very quickly.

When asked about the importance of the mural, Gavirel told the News, “Whether in painting or in abolition, we see the product, but we don’t see all the people behind the product. While we see like seven people here, each of those seven people have communities that also hold them and that’s what makes this possible. Otherwise we burn out.”

The mural, “We can make freedom out of what we have,” will be revealed at 318 Edgewood Ave. on Oct. 22.