ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – It was surreal to stand in front of the abandoned brick duplex with it’s windows broken out and shards of glass mixed with the dirt on the ground near the front porch and stare at my portrait. I learned about the painting from my sister-in-law who heard about it from her mother. She was on her way to church and while driving past the building on Page Avenue, she apparently noticed the painting and said to herself, “I think that’s Carol.”
A call to her daughter quickly circulated to me. I knew nothing about it but of course I wanted to know. Who would have painted a picture of me on an abandoned building and why? How long had it been there? Who was this artist and what was his goal? Who else had he painted and why did he choose me?
It didn’t take long to find out who he was, something I was intent on doing after my niece sent me a picture of the building and the paintings. Somehow the artist had chosen to place my painting right next to Olympian and East St. Louis native, Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Activist and author Dick Gregory and Ameren Illinois CEO Richard Mark. Now, I had more questions including, ‘How did I get put into such an accomplished group?” I got the answers to those questions and more when Chris Green agreed to meet me at the site and record an interview with me.
He was tall and soft spoken and wearing a coach’s whistle around his neck. His art, something he’d been engaged in since he was five-years-old was not a full-time endeavor. He worked for the St. Louis Parks and Recreation Department but painting portraits was something that he was compelled to do.
“I have met most of the people I painted here.” The 60+ portraits cover abandoned buildings over 13 blocks on windows and doors on Page Avenue. Green was commissioned by James Clark, Vice President of Community Outreach at Better Family Life to paint pictures of successful African-Americans and nail them to the building as part of their Page Avenue Beautification Project.
Green says, “The people I chose had to have at least 20 years of community contributions and a history of being an outstanding citizens.” I told him I was embarrassed and he said, “You are inspiring and you deserve this.”
He reminded me that we’d met when I was on the board of St. Louis native actor and comedian Joe Torry’s foundation, even showing me a picture he took of me with his daughter over 20 years ago.
Green says he painted the majority at home, taking four hours on mine alone. The picture he used to paint me was from my first promotional picture taken after I started working at KMOX 22 years ago. He still had the autographed picture I’d signed for him in his photo album.
Green hopes people will walk by the paintings and want to know more about the people in them. “I want people to see something other than negative graffiti and gang signs. I’d like teachers to take their class on a walk by the paintings, let students choose one person and then write an essay about them.” He wants to the paintings to not only inspire but to educate. “Most of these people still live in the area and I know they’d tell anyone how they became successful if they’re asked.”
I certainly would Chris, I most certainly would.
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