Murals to honor Sharpsburg women working to better community
It’s helpful Sharpsburg Municipal Building and the borough’s volunteer fire department sit adjacent to each other, as councilwoman Karen Pastor often finds herself bouncing between the two.
A six-minute walk down the road, longtime resident and Sharpsburg Community Library circulation assistant Jamie Cozza most likely is reading to a child or helping patrons find their next favorite books.
A few more blocks down Main Street at Roots of Faith ministry, chances are good that Mary Jayne Kozlowski is welcoming anyone in need of help who walks through the door.
The three women have separate impacts on the community but they all share an important characteristic evident to fellow residents — they are all influential women in Sharpsburg working toward a better community.
The Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial are working together to honor such unsung female heroes of Sharpsburg with the “Beyond the Ceiling: Sharpsburg” project, a series of large photography murals to be displayed throughout the community. With the support of the Heinz Endowments, the series will highlight five local women nominated by local people.
“Sharpsburg is full of women who are the backbones of their families … and organizations that people love here,” said Brittany Reno, Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization executive director. “But right now, we don’t have monuments or statues honoring their contributions to our community.”
The idea for the project originated two years ago when Rial photographed a young woman in Wilkinsburg, Remy McIntyre, who was the last valedictorian at Wilkinsburg Senior High School before it closed its doors. S ince then, Rial has been looking for another community like Wilkinsburg with a similar strong identity.
“Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County especially, is such a tapestry of all different kinds of communities,” Rial said. “I’ve only scratched the surface so far, and I have so much to learn.”
A former photographer for local newspapers, Rial said her background in community news also served as an inspiration for the project.
The pride and history of Sharpsburg stuck out to her, she said — but more importantly she noticed a strong sense of female identity.
“Despite the challenges they have faced there in the last few decades, the people — especially the women — are still so proud to call themselves ‘Sharpsburghers,’ ” Rial said.
The project is open to women of all walks of life, and the only qualification is that nominees be at least 18 years old. What surprised Rial is the number of nominations coming in from men, not just women.
“I love it,” Rial said. “I just love hearing the stories and finding out about these women.”
Although specific dates have not yet been released, the hope is to reveal the first few murals this fall.
Rial, Reno and Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization board member Nanci Goldberg have chosen three women so far from among more than 35 nominations. Although the locations of the murals have not been announced, Rial said they will be in close proximity to Main Street.
And women throughout the community are stepping up to do their part for the project, whether they were nominated or not. Kelly Young, owner of the The Young in You Beauty Salon on Main Street, donated her time to style the nominees’ hair before shoots.
For Pastor, who has lived and worked in the community for 55 years, it’s an emotional process.
“I cried when I got the call,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea that I would even be considered by anyone, and this means the world to me.”
Pastor has been a part of council since 2010 and a volunteer for the fire department since 2011. She has juggled different roles from council member to president. She currently serves as vice president while also maintaining her role as one of five female volunteer firefighters for Sharpsburg.
“There are so many women in Sharpsburg that deserve the recognition, and I’m humbled to represent those women of my community,” Pastor said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer