Late on a sunny afternoon in University Heights, Micah Foster and Dominic Robinson pulled off Monroe Street to take pictures of themselves posing in front of an outdoor mural of the Virgin Mary and child. The portrait looms over 7 feet high, with an emphasis on curving lines of purple and gold. The child's eyes gaze at the mother, but Mary herself looks straight back at onlookers. An artist's scaffold stands in front of the portrait.
'It's only been here a little while, but it's a landmark,' Foster said.
The painting decorates the north side of Park Boulevard Foods, a local sandwich shop and liquor store. The store's owner, Adiam Haile, commissioned the artist Saratoga Sake to do the work, possibly in response to the murals on the walls of Cream coffeehouse just across the street. Sake used Haile and her mother as models for the portrait. The Hailes would not comment for this story other than to confirm those details.
But the work seems to be a hit with the neighborhood.
'I like the mural a lot,' said 'Figaro' (as he is known), the owner of the barbershop next door. 'It helps her business. It's colorful and it complements that area. It creates excitement and interest in the businesses.'
A Normal Heights resident sitting in Figaro's chair, Dan Simonelli, said he, his wife and his two young daughters all like it too. The sentiment seemed common among the passersby CityBeat spoke with.
Common, perhaps, but not universal. The brothers Chuck and Al Hanna own the building that houses the deli. Supposedly, Al Hanna told Haile to paint over the mural, since she had it painted without permission. Chuck declined to talk to CityBeat when reached at his home, but CityBeat found Al at his coffee shop at the Eugene Brucker Education Center. He refused to speak on the record, but his wife, who would not provide her first name, did make a few remarks.
Ms. Hanna said she and her husband had received complaints from the community about the painting, though she would not confirm whether they had asked Haile to paint over it.
'We want the business to succeed,' she said. 'We'd like to see something more tied into the business.'
Robinson, though, thinks the painting suits the area just fine.
'Are you serious?' he asked, when he heard it might be destroyed. 'That's not cool. It's an artistic neighborhood.'