Beyond the Ceiling murals unveiled in Sharpsburg
For longtime Sharpsburg resident and business owner Evelyn Shoop, it wasn’t always easy being a lady in the Pittsburgh business scene.
Shoop, now 83, found it quite the task in the 1970s to open a credit card or get a loan in her own name without the signature or backing of her husband.
But she was determined to do it herself, and that she did. Opening the Flower Gallery floral shop on North Canal Street in Sharpsburg in 1976, Shoop set an example for so many more women in her community.
Decades later, the inspiration of both her and lifelong resident Barbara Smith were quite literally implanted into the community.
On June 15, the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization and Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Martha Rial unveiled the final two photography murals in the “Beyond the Ceiling: Sharpsburg” project, a five-part series of larger than life portraits displayed on buildings throughout the community honoring ordinary, yet extraordinary women.
“Photography is about moving people, it’s about inspiring people, and it’s a call to action,” Rial said. “If we’ve done that here in Sharpsburg, then I’ve done my job.”
The project, which debuted the first three murals in October 2018, is funded by the Heinz Endowments and Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization.
Each of the two murals were mounted strategically around town. Shoop’s portrait, which shows her holding a single pink flower, is located at 101 North Main Street near the Etna-Sharpsburg Gateway.
Smith’s, which captures her soft smile, is at the Linden Gym, ironically the place her mother worked when she was young growing up in Sharpsburg.
According to Shoop, the honor she received doesn’t mean she can rest.
“I plan to continue,” Shoop said. “I haven’t quit yet.”
For family and friends of Smith, the unveiling was a bittersweet tribute. On May 20, Smith passed away at the age of 88 of esophageal cancer, not long after her photo for the project was taken.
Standing in front of the Linden Gym and Smith’s large portrait, her granddaughter, Kayla Portis, spoke about her Gran’s achievements. She raised six children in Sharpsburg with her husband of 46 years, many of whom still reside in the community. Before her death, Smith was an active member of Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Sharpsburg where she worked as a missionary.
But Portis said her sense of humor and contagious, memorable laugh are what she and so many others loved most about her. Like her grandmother, Portis, 33, grew up in Sharpsburg and continues to raise her own children in the community.
“She was someone strong, someone to look up to,” Portis said. “And not only for myself and my family, but for other women of Sharpsburg, too.”
A single rose sat on a seat in front of the Linden Gym where Smith would have sat during the unveiling.
When Martha interviewed Shoop, Smith and other women for this project, she found that each of them had encouragement, most importantly, from their husbands.
“Having support is critical to success,” Rial said. “Women need the support from the men in their lives.”
Each unveiling drew different crowds, but both with more than 40 people waiting for the tarps to be taken down. What Rial found most rewarding was the amount of young women who came out to hear each story.
“It was so important to see young girls in the audience taking notice of this and knowing that they count and that they matter,” Rial said.
Each of the five honorees were nominated by their neighbors, friends and family who felt they made an impact towards shaping Sharpsburg. Rial said they received more than 60 nominations, and since they all couldn’t get a mural, nine more small portraits of women were displayed at Ketchup City Creative on Main Street after the unveilings.
Also on display were drawings from young artists at the Sharpsburg Community Library of women in the community who they found have been influential.
Rial, now considered by many community members as an “honorary Sharpsburger,” announced that although she has wrapped up in Sharpsburg, she has recently received funding to move the project to Millvale.
To follow the “Beyond the Ceiling” project and read more about the honorees, go to beyondtheceiling.tumblr.com