By Samantha Deras
In the midst of bright colors and bold outlines, you can see five of Malden’s famous women looking back at you.
A new Malden Arts mural by artist Amanda Hill highlighting five local “wonder women” was recently installed along the bike path this October (off Main St. between Charles and Madison St.).
Malden Arts is a community organization that was founded in 2006 by former Maldonian Naomi Brave who is on its board of directors along with four other women: Candace Julyan, Robin Inman, Naomi Kahn, and Sharon Santillo. The group’s mission is to bring art to the Malden community and put the spotlight on local artists.
“As much as we want to support local artists and all that they do, we felt that not everyone goes to galleries, not everyone goes to museums, but public art is truly for everyone involved in this very diverse community,” Malden Arts historian Sharon Santillo said. “And we wanted to put art out there that everybody could enjoy, just in their daily life or as they’re passing by.”
The organization has installed five other murals, four that focus on artists, musicians, and writers, who have a strong connection to Malden and one that focuses on the hardships endured by the COVID epidemic. This work, along with several sculpture installations and a large scale photo montage, make up Malden’s ARTLine.
It started with their Ed Emberley mural, a children’s illustrator. After that came the mural for musician Norman Greenbaum, then fine artist Frank Stella, and their latest mural for cartoonist and writer Keith Knight.
“We just come up with ideas we think are cool,” said Malden Arts president Candace Julyan.
Acknowledging that all the artists featured in the murals are male, the organization wanted to begin a project to highlight the successful women of Malden.
The originator of the “Wonder Woman” character, William Moulton Marston, was a graduate of Malden High School in 1911. Malden Arts and muralist Amanda Hill decided to put a spin on the “Wonder Woman” character and put the spotlight on famous Malden women.
The colorful mural features black and white portraits of the following women, all of whom lived some of their lives in Malden:
- Perle Fine (1905-1988): a visual artist prominent in 1950s New York who has art on display in the Malden Public Library
- Harriet Robinson (1825-1911): an activist and suffragette
- Virginia Williams (1914-1984): choreographer and co-founder of Boston Ballet.
- Louise Stokes (1913-1978): a track and field athlete and one of the first two Black women named to a US Olympic team
- Margaret Rossiter (1944-Present): a McArthur Fellow whose three volumes celebrate forgotten women in science. She was also known for coining the “Matilda effect,” a term for systematic repression of the contribution of female scientists by their male counterparts.
When looking for an artist to create and conceptualize the new mural, Julyan said that muralist and Malden Arts collaborator Amanda Hill felt like just the right person.
“At that point, she was working in Lynn and someone on our board, who saw the Lynn murals, said ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool. She needs to come talk to us,’” said Julyan.
Amanda Hill is a multimedia artist and muralist who works predominantly in the Greater Boston area. Through her work she wants to remind people about the beauty of everyday objects and interactions but also emphasize underrepresented stories and narratives.
This is exactly the aesthetic we can see in the Wonder Women mural. Having studied at an all-women’s college, Hill said that she knows personally how it feels to be treated differently and forgotten because of your gender.
“It was a very different college experience from what other people I know have had, just because most of our classes were made up of women. You know, the entire campus, you’re surrounded by women,” said Hill. “And so when I entered the workforce outside of my college, it was sort of a rude awakening.”
This is what gave the project its meaning to Hill. Having had similar experiences to these former Maldonian women in the mural, she wanted to remind audiences about the victories and hardships that come with being female.
“And so for me, I think it’s important that women my age, or any age, little ones to adults, just see that the hardship was there. They overcame it. And we should celebrate that but also remember how hard it was and still is. Just make sure that history is there,” said Hill.
The five women of Malden Arts, each standing beside an historical “Wonder Woman” in the new “Wonder Women of Malden” mural. (Click on images to see full photo and credit. Arrow back to return to story.)
Malden Arts has established a well-known reputation with the city’s residents.
“The community has embraced us pretty profoundly and have been very supportive of all of our work,” said Julyan. “[They] are always eager to see the next weirdo idea we come up with.”
“We’ve had people tell us that it has changed their whole day,” said Santillo of the mural. “You know, (they see it on) their walk to the T in the morning to go to work. We feel so honored to have brought recognition to the city through these very accomplished people that have had a connection to Malden. That’s been a great honor to us all.”
Success and praise aside, bringing art to the public and celebrating former Maldonians can be taxing. Many don’t know that just five Malden women do all the work for the Malden Arts organization.
“We are taking another breather,” said Julyan. “Everybody was contacting us and we said, ‘We need a break.’ I don’t think people realize that it’s just five women doing this. Sometimes we feel a little bit like the Wizard of Oz.”
Samantha Deras is a journalism student at Emerson College. Her work appears as part of a collaborative partnership between the “Beat Reporting Across the Media” class taught by Mark Micheli at Emerson College and the Neighborhood View editorial staff.