"Climbing" by Carol Ann Newsome

Over the Rhine is a Cincinnati neighborhood just north of downtown that was the once-prosperous home of German immigrants and breweries. The neighborhood was decimated during WWI when anti-German sentiment sent the inhabitants to places where they would not be such a ready target. The death knell came when Prohibition closed the breweries. Since that time, Over the Rhine sank into urban blight and became the most drug riddled area in the city while the population morphed overwhelmingly to lower income African Americans. Beautiful examples of late 19th Century architecture remained abandoned for decades with their windows boarded up. Ovder the last twenty-five years, OTR has undergone a renaissance and is now the home of trendy lofts and hipster-inspired businesses.

During the early days of the renaissance, I wanted to do something to help improve the neighborhood and came up with the idea of painting murals on plywood to mount over boarded-up storefronts. Climbing was my contribution to urban renewal. Climbing trees was my childhood joy and my first experience of risk and reward. For me the portraits of children in trees was not only a happy one, but a metaphor for my hope for the neighborhood.

I was naive. While the neighborhood children I drafted for this project were thrilled to climb the trees on the median on Central Parkway (under supervision of their parents), tree climbing is not an experience most black, urban children relate to. I found out years later by chance that sentiment with some in the neighborhood was that the paintings were a racist statement equating them with monkeys. Someone painted white circles over the faces, ironically obliterating these children. When Michael Douglas came to town to film Traffic, a movie about the drug trade, the murals were a poignant backdrop to his search for his cinematic daughter. The paintings were removed when the Venice Pizza relocated there about 10 years ago. This is an organization that provides training and job experience to those who lack resources. I have no idea what happened to them.

Art has a life of its own, independent of the artist. Regardless of public controversy, these remain some of my finest paintings.



13th and Vine
Marcus, 13th and Vine
Marcus
Marcus
Bennie #1
Bennie #1
Bryan
Bryan
Marcus
Shawanda
Bennie #2
Bennie #2
Shawanda and Bennie
Shawanda and Bennie, in situ
Joseph
Joseph




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Copyright© 2005 by Carol Ann Newsome