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History reflected in murals

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003

Kyle Holbrook is not necessarily a man of many words. But the Penn Hills man speaks volumes to thousands of people through murals he's painted throughout the Pittsburgh area.

"Each mural has its own identity," said Holbrook, 25, emphasizing that people should be able to relate to them. "Murals do a lot subconsciously."

Holbrook has been commissioned to paint a mural of Pittsburgh on Monroeville Mall's upper level, in the Kaufmann's hallway next to Cutlery Plus. The 65-foot-long and 16-foot-high mural depicts a collage of famous Pittsburgh people and places.

"I want this wall to be something Pittsburghers can use to remember and reminisce about our history," said Holbrook, a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. "The original sketch has been altered a little bit. Walkers in the mall, especially older people, made suggestions. It has a nostalgia feel and it instills pride."

Holbrook and his staff of artists have added people such as Billy Eckstine to portraits of jazz legend Stanley Turrentine, pop star Christina Aguilera, former Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and Hall of Fame Steelers running back Franco Harris. The artist also included an American flag to showcase pride of country and support of American troops.

Katherine Steinberg, of Monroeville, complimented Holbrook and Solomon as she stopped to watch them put details on the mural. "It's beautiful," she said. "I think it was a great idea to do a mural here. It really gives walkers and shoppers something to look at and talk about."

Mall Marketing Director Mindy Suhoza said the mural project is one of the finishing touches on the mall's multi-million dollar renovation that included the addition of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Playspace, the reconstruction of Treats Food Court (now Courtyard Cafes), new escalators, new lighting and an outdoor electronic marque.

"The best thing to do with a blank wall in one of our busy entrances is to create a tribute to the many wonderful people and places in our great city," she said.

Billy Solomon, of East Liberty, handles much of the abstract art and detailing to Holbrook's murals. He said their work is not just about painting. but also about making people feel they are a part of something special.

"Pittsburgh is not just known for steel," he said. "There are a lot of famous people from Pittsburgh. We want people to be able to look up at it and identify with Pittsburgh."

Holbrook also has painted murals in Wilkinsburg, East Hills and Northview Heights.

Holbrook, whose parents are educators, also teaches his craft to youths in housing developments in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The 10-week classes allow youth to learn to paint while Holbrook and his assistants develop a mural with them. His latest project is teaching classes at Propel Charter School in Homestead, where he will paint five murals.

"It's giving kids and showing kids an opportunity," Holbrook said. "It creates a social environment of seeing you can make it doing something other than playing football or selling drugs."

Additional Information:

The Holbrook file

Name: Kyle Holbrook

Residence: Penn Hills

Age: 25

Occupation: Artist

Noteworthy: Holbrook was commissioned to paint a 65-foot mural near Kaufmann's department store at the Monroeville Mall.

Quote: 'Each mural has its own identity. Murals do a lot subconsciously.'

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