A new Willy Street mural “means everything” to Sharon Irwin, the grandmother of Tony Robinson.
“It’s not easy to do this,” said the professional artist, who was wiping back tears as she prepared to paint her grandson’s portrait behind the Social Justice Center on Willy Street. “There is beauty in this. There is life in this.”
Irwin was one of about a dozen people, mostly artists, hard at work Sunday behind the center, 1202 Williamson St., painting a “PEACE” mural on the building. Others added a mosaic to the staircase.
Over the weekend, more than 40 people showed up to help out during a public portion of the project, said Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, 40, coordinator of the mosaic portion.
The mural not only depicts Robinson, the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by a Madison police officer in March, but eight others with ties to the Williamson Street neighborhood who have died or been killed in the past 16 years.
Next to Robinson is musician Paul Heenan playing guitar. Heenan was 30 in 2012 when he was fatally shot by a Madison officer while unarmed.
There’s Jaden McRaven riding a skateboard. McRaven, 18, a senior at East High School, died last year after he ran through an apartment at the Equinox building on West Gorham Street and went over a balcony railing.
Painted nearby is Ashley DiPiazza, 26, with her arm outstretched playing Frisbee golf, which Kilfoy-Flores said DiPiazza liked to do. DiPiazza was shot and killed by police last year after she refused orders to drop a gun she pointed at her own head.
The mural also shows Shaina Davenport walking a dog. Shaina was 14 in 1999 when her friend Louis Payne, 12, shot her in the stairway of the apartment building where she lived on Williamson Street.
Irwin points out that the mural is not about death, but about life. It’s about “the joy that they had and the joy that they gave.”
There, shown writing a poem, is Conor Dunleavy, 20, of Madison, who died in 2012, near Sun Prairie, after the car he was a passenger in was hit from behind by a drunken driver going about 100 mph. His poem starts, “Love is the blossom of life.”
Also depicted, standing with a muscle car, is Fredrica Hanger, fatally shot by his brother last year after the two argued outside their mother’s house. Hanger had been released from prison days before the shooting.
There’s street artist Brendan Scanlon, a Madison native, who went by the graffiti alias “SOLVE.” Scanlon was living in Chicago, where he was stabbed in an alley at age 24.
The hardest likeness to track down, Kilfoy-Flores said, was that of Victor Montero-Diaz, 45, a Cuban immigrant who was fatally shot by a Madison officer in 2006 at a Williamson Street gas station after biting another officer during a scuffle.
Lead artist Kelty Carew worked with many of the families all summer to design the mural. Her day job is as a memorial artist, engraving headstones.
Not only did Carew design the mural, she is engraving portraits of the deceased inside the mosaic sunflowers.
Kilfoy-Flores, the daughter of muralist Sharon Kilfoy, who is behind the project, designed 13 sunflowers in case more stories come forward, she said. “A lot of families after suffering such loss and trauma tend to seclude themselves.” She said she chose sunflowers for their symbolic value. “I feel they symbolize that after being cut, they still give life with their seeds.”
Kilfoy-Flores said she added morning glories because their leaves look like hearts. A row of small tile forget-me-nots needs no explanation.
Carew is also responsible for an enormous rose labyrinth on the pavement of the Social Justice Center’s parking lot. It, too, is part of the the PEACE mural and art project.
A photography exhibit associated with the project got a $1,500 BLINK grant from the city, and as of Sunday night, organizers had raised $720 through www.gofundme.com/willyart.
“We call it the PEACE mural because peace is the ideal and the goal, while acknowledging that all the families don’t have a sense of peace,” Carew, 29, said.
For Irwin, Robinson’s grandmother, there is beauty in the project. “There is life in this, even with all the pain. And there is a lot of pain.”