Fans break down, cry at sight of mural at Roberto Clemente museum
Duane Rieder sees the number 21 — the late Roberto Clemente’s jersey number with the Pittsburgh Pirates — everywhere.
The Pirates’ 2-1 win Friday.
The 21 years he’s run the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville.
The 21-inch steel beams in the old firehouse that houses the museum.
So, it was only fitting that the executive director of the Clemente Museum kicked off a community mural project with a block party on Friday, June 21. The public has been encouraged to stop by all weekend to pick up a paint brush. Rieder estimated more than 200 had already contributed to the mural by Saturday afternoon.
Rieder is a lifelong fan, but the museum and the mural celebrate Clemente, not baseball stats.
“It’s more about the man,” Rieder said. “We’re not telling baseball stories. The way he died is the way he lived.”
Clemente died in an plane crash in 1972. Just 38, he was en route to Managua, Nicaragua to provide aid packages to survivors after a massive earthquake struck the country’s capital.
Wilkinsburg native and mural artist Kyle Holbrook started his three-story wall painting Tuesday. Much of the evening Friday he spent hoisted 30 feet in the air, adding touches to the mural. He’s already done more than 200 public art projects in and around Pittsburgh.
While painting is often solitary endeavor, Holbrook savors collaboration. It was his idea to incorporate the community. The response has been unimaginable. Pittsburghers and Clemente fans break down and cry at the sight of the mural, Holbrook said.
“You can never do a sketch of what’s on the wall now,” Holbrook said. “If you try to do a sketch of this, it’s impossible.”
“This stuff is priceless,” he added.
Hidden in the yellow graffiti are signatures, Clemente’s 21, and slogans like “Be the change.”
Barbara Billek-Sawhney, of Pittsburgh, scrawled that message Friday night. She had wanted to say more with the yellow paint, but space on Clemente’s jersey was already getting tight.
“Clemente was an icon: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Clemente,” Billek-Sawhney said. “We still need superheroes.”
Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .