Artists in Phoenixville transform utility boxes into works of art
By Jen Samuel
That includes art.
In Phoenixville, a beautification project to transform ordinary utility boxes on borough streets is underway.
The Beautification Advisory Commission of Phoenixville issued its first call-to-artists for the project in 2017. Selected artists painted the first utility boxes that fall. Since then, Chester County artists have painted 13 mechanical boxes.
Nature is enough
In October, artist Phoenixville resident Alexander Jensen transformed a borough utility box, at the corner of Jackson and Hall streets. He painted a Southern Chester County meadow, inspired by the preserves of Binky Lee, Bryn Coed, Willisbrook and Sharp’s Woods preserves.
Natural Lands, based in Media, manages these preserves.
“My goal in all of my work is to wake people up,” Jensen said. “There are many things to be aware of, but what resonates in me is the feeling that we are becoming too detached from our natural and responsible way of life.”
Jensen said in attempting to bring a small piece of heaven into the town, he hoped to help people realize how simple things can be.
The mural includes painted words of inspiration, which reads: “The Answers Are In Nature.”
The artist said the meaning of finding answers to life in nature equates to realizing, “in some ways, when we simplify things to their core, we are all very similar and require the same things. Like we find things in nature.”
Jensen said that one highlight of the project, which he completed this past October, occurred when a local person questioned his design. “I was very thankful for the opportunity to explain that I had gotten my studies and inspiration from Natural Lands’ nature preserves just outside of Phoenixville,” Jensen recalled. “These teachable moments, while proof of our disconnection, are what inspire me to keep going and affirm my mission.”
He continued, “If passersby look at my work and ponder nature for one single moment, I’ve done something worthwhile.”
According to the Beautification Advisory Commission: “The goal of this project is to infuse art into the town in unexpected ways. We want artists to come up with a creative design using all four sides of the 2020 planned utility boxes to display their amazing art in very public places which will enhance downtown Phoenixville’s visual surroundings and demonstrate just what art can do to impact a community.”
Artists selected to transform a utility box with their visions receive a small stipend to complete the artwork to help cover the price of materials.
Teresa Haag is a member of Phoenixville’s Beautification Advisory Commission. She painted the “Welcome to Phoenixville” mural in the heart of the borough back in 2015.
Of the 13 utility boxes already painted since 2017, four new sites were transformed with the power of art in 2020 by Oct. 31. These original artworks can be viewed at the following intersections: High and Franklin; Jackson and Hall and Manavon and Starr. A fourth utility box was painted this year in front of the Phoenixville Plaza.
Art in society
“Art is the thing people didn’t think they needed until they have it,” Haag said on Friday. “The utility boxes and the murals used to be just empty walls, and no one knew differently.”
She continued, “Now, with the help of the town and a bunch of blank walls and boxes, inspired artists get to tell their story and share their vision with us, and we now get to live with color, and light, and beauty.”
She moved to Phoenixville in 2011 during a transition period in which she was stepping out of her corporate career with high hopes to launch herself as a professional artist.
“Phoenixville was the right place for me to be at the right time,” Haag said. The community, she said, supported her as she began showing her work, and provided a solid platform to share her paintings.
“It feels good to give back to the town by helping organize this project with local artists,” Haag said. “It’s a way for us to continue giving artists a platform to share their work in a very public way as well as provide the town with connection points and beauty.”
She said the murals and utility boxes in Phoenixville, just like in other towns, are a bold part of the fabric that weave people all together.
“Art gives people a chance to connect and feel and be transported,” Haag said. “It triggers thoughts of people, and memories, and dreams of what they want for themselves and others—which creates feelings of joy, and reflection, and peace, and all of the other emotions that make up the human experience.”