A bright, new mural in downtown College Park, Maryland, isn’t just pretty, it’s sending a message about what the University of Maryland is doing to save the state insect — the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.
Local artists Jason Philp and Cory Stowers came up with the concept.
“I just started to do a bit more research on some of the iconic identifiers of Maryland,” Stowers said.
That’s how he found out the University of Maryland is trying to save the state’s butterfly, and he wants students to know about it.
“I want them to understand their school is actively working to promote eco conservation and to, you know, help reintroduce the Baltimore checker spot into its native space,” Stowers said.
The school is planting more of what it eats as a caterpillar, white turtleheads.
“Ultimately with art, I feel like you can choose to make art that has absolutely no basis of reality, and it's just something from your brain, but with something like this, it has a message but it’s also something cool to look at,” Philp said.
The mural also showcases the state's flower, the black-eyed Susan, and UMD's mascot, a terrapin.
“It’s also the Native American symbol for protection, and so that terrapin is protecting the chrysalis as they make their journey to become the butterfly,” Stowers said.
The mural is on the corner of Knox Road and Baltimore Avenue. Philp said the most challenging part about transforming the 80-year-old canvas was the brick.
“This old stuff, it's got like a chisel line in it,” Philp said. “So everything needed to be sprayed down before we put any brushwork on it. It’s very deep grout. So a lot of white was popping back out. We had to go back up in the scaffolding to make sure everything was nice, clean and finished.”
The artists’ want the mural to send a message, but they also want people eventually to see it as a sign they’re home.
“I grew up in this area, and there was a mural down the street of a guy sitting on a porch talking to a kid, and if I had been a long car ride from New York in the backset with my mom driving or if I myself was working in Virginia long night, coming back, I'd see that mural and know I was almost home,” Philp said. “Hopefully, that's what this is for someone else, too. It's just like, you know, you’re home.”
With the support of Prince George's County Redevelopment Authority, the College Park City-University Partnership used two grants totaling about $30,000 to make the mural possible.
The College Park City-University Partnership Executive Director Eric Olson is hoping to add more murals to College Park in the future.
“We want to do more,” Olson said. “Anything to make it a livelier, more vibrant place. Having more art is better. It shows the creativity; it brings color and vibrancy to downtown.”