Art Matters: Sam Maitin’s ‘Celebration’ mural

The artist known as Philadelphia’s ‘Mayor of the Arts’ created the 17 colorful, playful pieces specifically for the Annenberg School for Communication.

Celebration mural.
SAM MAITIN (1928-2004)

A Philadelphia native and graduate of what is now the University of the Arts, Sam Maitin was known as the city’s “Mayor of the Arts” in his lifetime, with his works displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Academy of Music, the Settlement Music School, and multiple buildings on Penn’s campus. Maitin also taught at the Annenberg School for Communication for several years in the 1960s and ’70s, leading the Visual Graphics Communication Laboratory.

Walter and Leonore Annenberg commissioned the “Celebration” mural for the school in 1975. With their vibrant colors and playful shapes, the 17 pieces comprising the mural on the east wall of the school’s lobby, 20-30 feet above floor level, are classic Maitin. “I try to nurture the child in me—the innocence, the curiosity, the originality, the exultant primitivism,” Maitin told The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1987. He also illustrated some 20 covers for the publication.

Lynn Smith Dolby, director of the Penn Art Collection, says people who work in Annenberg “feel like this is an integral part of the building itself and of the fabric of the building. It’s a site-specific piece that he created for this specific wall and this specific building, so that makes it very special. When I was thinking about how to describe his work, the only word that comes to mind is exuberant. His style is so uplifting and energetic, and for this particular piece, it’s clear that he considered the architecture of the building and a way to unify this enormous space.”

The panels recently went through conservation following a ceiling leak. Penn worked with Atelier Fine Art Services and with Flux Art Conservation, which completed surface cleaning on all pieces and inpainting on some. Re-installation of the panels required two lifts on two floors to re-hang the 17 pieces on their respective hooks.

“Art Matters” is a series in Penn Today highlighting the many works of fine art on and around Penn’s campus.

Atelier Art Services reinstalls Celebration mural.
Atelier Fine Art Services re-installed Sam Maitin's "Celebration" mural in late February, following surface cleaning and inpainting by Flux Art Conservation.