Art is the Signature of Civilizations: Why this (Silent Movie Stars) Mural is so Important

I’m a niche writer. I don’t see eye-to-eye with the mainstream media, and that’s okay: I’m happy to go my own quirky way, even in a professional capacity. I’m fortunate to write about subjects that I truly love: dead writers, literary culture, weird short fiction and, of course, classic movies. I’ve been writing about the latter for a decade but, over those years, my focus has narrowed: I now write mostly on silent cinema. Oh, my beloved!

My home city has many amazing, memorable murals (hello, half-upside-down American Gothic!). My favourite-which I discovered a year ago as my mom was scouting out new apartments in this downtown neighborhood-is in the parking lot of a law school. It was so unexpected that I sucked in my breath before letting out a loud squeal. I may have jumped up and down but this is where the memory becomes foggy. Behold:

My fave mural (Columbus, Ohio)

My fave mural (Columbus, Ohio)

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, locked in a lovers’ embrace. In a law school parking lot. In 2012. Take a few seconds to let that sink in, if need be. It’s a momentary trip back to 1927.

Garbo and Gilbert mural, close-up (Columbus, Ohio)

Garbo and Gilbert mural, close-up (Columbus, Ohio)

Although Garbo was transcendent, and therefore remains highly watchable, Gilbert is number one on my list of Greatest Silent Movie Stars. I love him. I’d been meaning to take photographs of this mural for a year, but something kept getting in my way: namely Dame Time. I’m always running out of it on visits home, as family comes first. This visit, however, was different. I’ve been researching and re-watching Gilbert movies for months, as I am writing a major piece on the actor and his films. Incentive, met.

Garbo and Gilbert, together again

Garbo and Gilbert, together again

I’m a passionate believer in, and proponent of, public art. It simultaneously adorns and educates; it is a boon for a city and its citizens. It sets people to thinking and talking. It promotes civic pride whilst opening up a discussion on the nature and place of art in society. Art is damn important: the more we have of it, the more we want it. The more we want it, the better off we are.

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This fantastic mural is much more than the sum of its (pretty amazing) parts. True, it memorializes an important, mostly lost art and entertainment form. It shows us the attractiveness and mystery-that ineffable ‘it’ factor-held by two of the leading players in the history of film. It’s a beautifully rendered work of art in its own right, the kind that stops you in your tracks even if you are not familiar with the subjects. That is the point. It is beautiful, yes, but it also brings up questions. You will remember it long after you walk by, or click on this slideshow. What works of art not only decorate but demand discussion in your city?

8 thoughts on “Art is the Signature of Civilizations: Why this (Silent Movie Stars) Mural is so Important

  1. MaedeZ’s husband here…
    I wonder who might have actually painted this piece? You aught to look into it. Here is also a plea to her readers and followers… Who is the artist(s)?
    Just my $0.02.


  2. Pingback: One foot in the grave | Quirk'n It

  3. Hello! I am writing to ask if you would mind if i used your photo of this wonderful miral as a “before photo” to show what the mural was appearing like at its most faded. I am one of the restoration painters who just helped repaint this old classic to help it stick around the streets of Columbus for many years to come. I have lots of photos of it after the restoration was complete but wondered if i could be allowed to use this one to show what it was before (since there are no cars in this one and it looks bery nice). Thanks for your cool blog!


    • Yes, you may absolutely use my photo! I’d be honored. If you could just credit me (Alicia Austen) that would be lovely. If not, I understand.

      I write about silent cinema, and this Gilbert/Garbo mural is my fave public art in all of Columbus. My mother lives around the corner from it; she called me two days ago to let me know that it has been restored. I can’t wait to walk over and see it.

      Thanks so much for helping it live on.


      • Awesome, I will certainly credit you! Yeah, it took us over a week, but we got it done 🙂 I Hope you like it’s new restoration, we tried to put it back to its original appearance as much as possible 🙂 Thanks so much for your help Alicia!


      • You’re welcome! I forgot to ask you where you’ll be sharing the image. Anywhere is totally fine with me; I’m just curious.

        I’m going to go look at the mural sometime this week. I’m sure it’s lovely. I am excited to share the rehabbed version on social media.


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