Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mary Patten, Park Slope Muralist

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to present an update from the much more recent past, circa-1970s Park Slope.

Throughout the '70s, '80s, and even into the present day, a movement to create wall murals has existed on the margins of gentrified Brooklyn. This movement has recently been chronicled in a new book, On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City, from the University Press of Mississippi, reviewed in the March, 2009 Brooklyn Rail.

What caught our attention was a reference to a mural entitled "Douglass Street Mural", by Mary Patten:

In seeming contradiction to the mural's title, the review attributes the mural to "First Street" in Park Slope. Perhaps there was more than one mural by Mary Patten? Does anyone remember these murals?

Unfortunately the mural, wherever it was, seems not to have been entirely welcomed by "community members" who feared it would "bring down property values". The controversy ended when the mural was "obliterated by paint bombs".

"'On The Wall' describes artist Mary Patten’s 1977 First Street Mural in Park Slope, a work created with teens from Project Reach Youth. The theme, opposition to the era’s pervasive redlining and arson for profit, rankled community members who saw the depiction as overly combative and likely to 'bring down property values.' The searing conflict ended when the mural was obliterated by paint bombs."

This community intervention is interesting enough on its own terms.

But what really compelled our interest was the name of the artist, Mary Patten.

Fast forward 30 years, to last fall's "Signs of Change" exhibition at Exit Art in Manhattan, a show of graphic art in support of social movements over the past 40 years, curated by Dara Greenwald and Josh McPhee.

A "zine" was distributed at the exhibit, entitled "Revolution as an Eternal Dream: The Exemplary Failure of the Madame Binh Graphics Collective", which chronicled the activities of an above-ground graphic arts wing loosely affiliated with the Weather Underground in 1970s Brooklyn. It provided a fascinating insight into the radical-left marginal communities in and around Park Slope, circa 1970s. (A correspondent informs us that the Madame Binh Graphics Collective was located on Taaffe Place.) Actually, the communities only seem "marginal" by today's presentist standards. As the 'zine makes clear, in the charged atmosphere of the 1970s, revolution was "in the air" and it seemed as if a new world was coming into being any moment, which must have made for heady times indeed.

And the name of the author of this "zine"?:

Mary Patten.

Thus we recover another fragment of Park Slope's lost or suppressed history of the radical fringe communities, circa 1970s.


salem said...

Hi, just wanted to let you know that Mary Patten recently published a book with my press about her former graphics collective (which touches on working on these murals): Revolution As An Eternal Dream. There's more info here: http://halfletterpress.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=20_3&products_id=244

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