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An Interview With The Mosaic Artist Who’s Quietly Filling Sidewalk Cracks in Fairmount

December 6, 2022

Words and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

If you’ve walked down Mt Vernon Street between 20th and 23rd recently, you might have stumbled upon something like this:

If you look carefully in the sidewalks on that street and a few others in the neighborhood, you’ll see other mosaic interventions that fill sidewalk cracks and holes left by missing bricks. Both delightful and functional, they exemplify some of the best things that street art can accomplish. But who made them?

It turns out that the artist behind these repairs didn’t have a name for herself when she started making them. Nevertheless, with a little DMing, I managed to find her on Instagram! She told me the exact locations of several cracks she had filled, and when I went out to photograph them, by sheer luck, I ran into her! After chatting a little, she showed me the first step in her process—making a rough outline of the crack that needs filling. Using the outline, she can go back to her studio to lay down her design on a mesh mosaic backing cut to the exact shape of the hole.

For smaller cracks and holes, she just digs them out and fills them on the fly. On the day I stopped by, she had used painter’s tape to mark about a dozen potential cracks to fill up and down the sidewalk, and was starting to dig them out for mosaicing the following day. I even witnessed her asking several residents for permission to fill cracks in front of their homes. Needless to say, she didn’t get a single “no.”

The artist also showed me a nearby egret mosaic she had made for a friend, and told me that most of her larger mosaics never get seen by anyone.

We spent about half an hour talking shop, but I still had questions. So I sent her a message to learn more. And because of this piece, she ended up choosing a name for herself! So I’m very pleased to now introduce: Sidewalk

Eric: When did you fill your first crack, and which one was it?

Sidewalk: I think I filled my first cracks about five years ago. I started with those dog prints. I had been staring at them for years and finding them, even empty, hilarious. The way that one little dog-second got frozen in time. So one day when I was working on something else and had some mortar mixed up, I just went out, sat down, and filled about four of them. It seemed like such a transformation. A neighbor of mine then suggested that I fill up the dog prints in front of her house. It took me about a year to get around to doing it. While sitting on the ground doing that, another neighbor came over and showed me some broken dishes she had which had meaning for her and wondered if I could do something with them in front of her house. I couldn’t use the dishes, but put something small in a few of the cracks in front of her house. I actually hated the way they looked and kind of cringed every time I passed that spot. So one day, I thought I think I’ll fill a bigger spot and do it with more intention and put something down I actually like, using more high-end materials—like some ceramic pieces I had made, and smalti.

I loved the transformation of this ugly hole into a tiny color celebration. I also noticed how happy they made people as they stumbled upon them. Next, a friend of mine bought her first house in Fairmount and I wanted to give her a housewarming present, so I made one of my biggest ones, the big red flower.

Eric: What compels you to fill in these cracks?

Sidewalk: I do not really understand why I take such pleasure in doing it. I think it is the element of surprise that color-filled cracks provide, little gifts to the downwardly focused. It is one thing to transform a blank canvas or even a street wall but another to fill an ugly hole or crack with something fun. Besides, if you hate it, it is over in a split second.

Eric: How long have you been working in this medium? (Of mosaics, not just the crack filling)

Sidewalk: I’ve been doing mosaic murals for about 7 years now. In contrast to the street cracking, the other things I have done are big murals. My first one was a 10 foot by 13 foot wall when I knew pretty much nothing about the whole endeavor. I have not had any art school training but have learned mostly though workshops with artists I admire or practice.

Eric: Where are the larger pieces “that nobody sees” you mentioned?

Sidewalk: My friend Wendy Osterweil, a fabric artist, helped me get started, since she had once helped in a community project. Since then, I’ve done 4 large murals on the back of a mountain house in Endless Mountains (which mostly no one sees) and one on the back of a back wall here in Philly and another half finished. Because I lived in the Dominican Republic and worked on immigration for much of my career, a lot of the mural themes relate to the D.R. or to immigration. I need to feel deeply connected to the theme to give me the discipline to keep cutting all those pieces.

Eric: What’s been the general reaction from your neighbors?

Sidewalk: As I work on these, it often involves sitting on the ground for about two hours on three separate days (digging up, laying down, grouting). As I work, mostly folks just step over me, but many stop and talk about what the hell I’m doing, or how nice it looks, or if am I having a heart attack, and frequently, could I do one in front of their house. So it kind of started to take off. Children, being so close to the ground, are especially keen. Almost everyone on my block who has commented has been very happy with them. One said to me the other day, “I love the way you have just taken over the block.” In fact, I have outstanding requests for 5 specific spots to cover once the weather turns warm again.

Eric: When we were chatting, it sounded like the answer was no, but… do you take commissions?

Sidewalk: Nah. Don’t think so. Too much pressure. I’m in it for the fun.

Eric: Anything else you’d like to share about this little endeavor?

Sidewalk: Now that I think about it, the movement from my very big mosaic murals to the street cracks might be a kind of a relief from the grandiosity of my taking on too big walls as a rank beginner. Who knows.

So look down the next time you’re in Fairmount. Maybe you’ll find one of the tiny acts of art and public service installed by Sidewalk! I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled.

P.S. If you like non-commissioned mosaics, check out our previous posts about Chicago-based artist Jim Bachor!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Anita Landreau permalink
    December 7, 2022 4:33 pm

    What fun!
    Love the artwork!

  2. December 7, 2022 4:56 pm

    What a delightful story. Thank you Sidewalk for placing your artwork in a unexpected and pleasing location.

  3. alice lindenauer permalink
    December 8, 2022 9:32 am

    So that’s where these whimsical pieces are coming from! Thank you, Sidewalk for making me smile!

  4. A. Candreva permalink
    December 8, 2022 12:45 pm

    Proud to say “I knew her when”…. and I’ve seen her big murals and they are wonderful!

  5. December 9, 2022 8:05 am

    Thank you for taking the time to make some thing beautiful and in doing so bringing a smile to all who step over one of your delightful creations.

  6. Suzanne Naples permalink
    December 14, 2022 10:46 am

    Thanks for this article! Brilliant—-and the fact that a) she is a white-haired lady ( I am 77!) and B) learning as she goes, made it especially sweet.

  7. Angela Santiago permalink
    December 16, 2022 4:52 pm

    Thank you Sidewalk. Can’t wait to go on a neighborhood sidewalks exploration. Love your creativity..

  8. Bonnie permalink
    December 23, 2022 9:41 am

    Fantastic! Heard about “Sidewalk”just last night from s o m e o n e . . . Personally I want to hook up w/ any homeowner that needs a new sidewalk . I d offer my services to bring color in! Keep it up. Beautiful.

  9. Sheri permalink
    February 23, 2023 9:47 pm

    These are so beautiful and brighten up the neighborhood. Thank you for these artistic contributions to Fairmount!!


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