Elbe’s Mural Project
Elbe's Beer & Wine store is one of the oldest business establishments in Wheaton. It has been family owned since 1951 when it was started as a neighborhood grocery store by Willie and Miriam Bobrow. Willie Bobrow served in the US Army in WWII and was stationed near the Elbe River, hence the name. The store is now run by their sons Andy and Jeff.
After receiving a $8,000 planning grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, Wheaton Arts Parade embarked on a year-long process that started by gathering ideas from the community about the mural design. WAP assembled an advisory committee of businesses, residents, artists, and the property owner. Informed by the ideas generated by the community in public sessions and online, WAP issued a "Call to Artists" that attracted applications from 45 mural artists across Maryland. This is what the artists "heard" in the call:
"We are looking for a beautiful work of art that local residents and visitors will enjoy as they walk or drive by on University Blvd or Grandview Ave, something that will make the people of Wheaton feel proud and that will let visitors know that Wheaton is a community that values art. The message that the mural should communicate is the cultural diversity of Wheaton. This can be done through images of people or through the designs and symbols and colors associated with diverse cultures. Another mural message that would be valued by the community is Wheaton’s History. For most of Wheaton’s history after Native Americans were forced out, the area around Wheaton was farmland, mills and the intersection of three roads: the road from Georgetown to Bladensburg, the road from DC to Baltimore and the road from this junction to the ferry across the Potomac to northern Virginia. These highways still define Wheaton. Elbe’s opened soon after WWII when Wheaton experienced a baby boom, a housing boom and the construction of one of the DC area's largest shopping malls. Wheaton has become the launchpad for new arrivals and their American dreams, many of whom have come from Central and South America, Asia, Africa and Central Europe. To serve these immigrant communities, restaurants were started and over time have given Wheaton a reputation for its excellent ethnic restaurants. The artist should consider incorporating images of Elbe’s origins as a neighborhood grocery store. Some community members have even suggested painting the images of its founders Willie and Miriam Bobrow."
The Advisory Committee selected three finalists to receive a $1,000 commission to prepare their design concepts. After the design concepts were submitted, they were shared with the public and more than 300 community preferences were collected online. The Advisory Committee considered the community's preferences and selected a design by Bridget Cimino, a Baltimore muralist with roots in Wheaton. The artist's design concept moves through time from the past to the future. On the right side of the mural, above the customer entrance, is a depiction of a Native American village as it might have looked hundreds of years ago, with children at play. Below this scene, is an image of the same terrain being farmed by a European settler in the 18th century. As our eyes move left across the mural, toward University Blvd, the next images we see are of local commerce in the mid 20th century, the distinctive Wheaton Plaza sign and the founders of Elbe’s when it was the neighborhood grocery store. These businesses helped create the community that exists in Wheaton today. Moving further toward the present day, we see a woman cooking pupusas. She represents the current diverse population in Wheaton, who have brought aspects of their culture to further enrich the Wheaton community. Tendrils of steam and smoke waft up from her grill and continue the movement of the composition from right to left, carrying the viewer into the mystery of what is to come in the future. Finally, the image of an African American youth projects the energy that will propel Wheaton into the future, just as he kicks the soccer ball toward the viewer. The young boy at play creates a 21st century bookend to the Native American children at play 400 years ago.
Once funding is secured in early 2024, the artist plans to begin work that will take approxiately one month to complete. Using a lift to access the tallest areas, the artist will apply a grid to ensure that the image is transferred accurately. The artist and assistants will then fill in the drawing with Novacolor mural paints especially made for outdoor applications. Once the drawing is filled in, the artist will apply the details and shading to bring the image to life. Wheaton Arts Parade and the building owner will be responsible for repositioning existing lights and preparing the wall surface for the artist's work. The wall is in fairly good condition. There are a few areas along the bottom where the concrete is failing that need to be scraped and patched. The wall will be power washed to remove surface dirt and grime and primed with two coats of Loxon concrete and Masonry primer sealer to provide an ideal mural painting surface and to prevent embedded nails from rusting further and bleeding through to the surface. The wall surface is 2054 sq ft.
Wheaton Arts Parade (WAP) is applying to the Maryland State Arts Council's Public Art Across Maryland program for $30,000 in project funds to pay the artist's commission. But the total project, including lighting, will cost almost $50,000. WAP is asking the property owner, neighboring businesses and Wheaton residents to chip in to help complete the mural. If you can help with a contribution to this or any other WAP activity, please click here to make your donation.
Below are photos of the proposed mural location.