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Veterans, families paint panels of Veterans Freedom Mural Saturday

Eric Okdeh
Wilmington's Creative District
A cropped piece of the entire mural design by Philadelphia-based mural artist Eric Okdeh, before paint is added by veterans.

One of the first public art projects to spring from Wilmington’s Creative District will be produced this weekend.  The Veterans Freedom Mural is being created for – and by - veterans in the city.


“We wanted the veterans to be the first folks to put the paint on the cloth as it were, and have their hands in it. It just seemed out of respect: they’ve been working on this project with us and it really is for them," said Laura Semmelroth, Creative Strategist with the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation.

Vets and their families will paint panels Saturday for what will be Wilmington’s first parachute cloth mural.  It will hang later this summer on Marcella’s House, a 31-unit home housing formerly homeless veterans.
Ed Pullyblank served in the Army from 1980-2006. He’s now a peer specialist for Connections, CSP, helping veterans transition from homelessness back into society.

He’s been involved in the mural development since last December, and says many living in Marcella’s House – a transitional house for homeless veterans – have shared their own stories with Philadelphia-based artist Eric Okdeh.


Pullyblank also contributed to the brainstorming process, and wanted to make sure all different armed forces were represented – not leaving out female veterans or the coast guard  - and that all eras, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraqi Freedom, were represented in the mural.


“The artist sat down with individual veterans, listened to their stories, got their stories, also what veterans didn’t want to see on the wall," Pulleyblank said. "As far as we didn’t want to see no blood, no death…anything negative on the wall period. We wanted it all positive and we wanted to show transition from military to civilian life portrayed.”


Okdeh says some of his interviews with veterans lasted as long as an hour - and one was particularly poignant.

“We spoke at length one day and he was talking about the first thing that really hit him when he was coming home was him looking out the airplane window and seeing all the farmland – like the patchwork farmland – of the United States – and that’s when it hit him that he’s finally back," Okdeh said. "And that actually appears – you see the C180 bringing people back in the design.”


Okdeh says on Saturday, veterans will not only get to help paint panels of the mural but also write down advice to veterans transitioning back into civilian life - things they wish someone had told them.


He plans to transpose those written responses on the mural. Once complete, it will be 30 feet high and 20 feet wide.


Semmelroth notes the parachute cloth helps preserve the mural longer than painting directly on the building surface.


After the veterans and their families paint Saturday, there will be two community painting days next week: on May 11 from 3 to 8 p.m. and on May 14th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 801 W. St. in Wilmington.


The parachute cloth panels will be hung the first two weeks in June, before the final mural is unveiled the morning of June 28th.

25 local artists have been learning how to create murals as part of the process. 107 different colors will be used in the mural.

This piece is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

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