For 20 years, artist Ellen Griesedieck has been creating an enormous mural that shows American workers doing their jobs, from farming and firefighting to fishing and fixing cars. Along the way, she’s had lots of help from kids.
Griesedieck (pronounced GREE-zeh-deck) is a small woman, but the people she paints are gigantic. There’s Melissa, a firefighter. Stitch and Steve, who are auto mechanics. And Edwin, a New York City police officer.
“Edwin [depicted in the mural] is three times the height of any person you know,” Griesedieck says.
Their size is meant to show how important these people, and the work they do, are to everyone.
When Griesedieck’s kids (who are grown up now) were little, she realized they didn’t know much about the different kinds of work people do to keep our world running smoothly. Talking with her children, she learned that they weren’t taught in school about the kinds of jobs so many kids’ mothers and fathers do. So she decided to do something about it.
Because she’s an artist, she figured she’d create a work of art dedicated to American workers, who sometimes “can seem invisible,” she says. To make sure nobody could miss them, she decided to make her portraits of the people really, really big. And to show how everybody in our country works together, she put the portraits together to form a gigantic mural.
Her American Mural Project (AMP) is so big — 120 feet long, 48 feet high and up to 10 feet deep — she needed help making it. In addition to asking other grown-ups, she asked kids to pitch in. When you visit AMP in the town of Winsted, Connecticut, you see a mural that’s five stories tall, a giant 3-D puzzle, as Griesedieck puts it. The mural is made up of many materials, including painted metal, fiberglass, wood, blown glass and fabric — and even a bunch of watches. It also includes many smaller pieces that kids helped create. Kids also gave money, usually a few dollars per child, to help pay for the mural.
Where do you put a huge work of art like AMP? An art gallery or museum? Nope. They’d be too small. Griesedieck found an old mill building that once was used by a company that manufactured men’s socks. But even that wasn’t big enough! She had to bring workers in to raise the roof.
The kids who first helped Griesedieck make AMP are grown-ups now. But kids your age can still get involved. Griesedieck had an idea to have schoolchildren in all 50 states take part in her project. In the next few years, kids from across the nation will have a chance to help make the American Mural Project bigger and better.
In the meantime, some kids who live in Connecticut get to visit AMP through their after-school programs. Once a week, they go there to do art projects, using the mural as inspiration.
Many of the jobs people depicted in AMP do are not the kinds of jobs parents and teachers usually encourage kids to do when they grow up. But, Griesedieck says, we need welders and firefighters and truck drivers — people doing jobs we call “trades.” One of her goals in creating AMP is to “make the trades as exciting as we know they are.”
“All of these people” Griesedieck says, “are heroic in what they’re doing.”