Hiram College

When artist Jack Carlton returned to Youngstown after living on the east coast, he was “devastated” by the boarded up windows and the number of businesses that had been shut down since he last lived there. But being an artist, he decided to do something to beautify the town.

The current gallery at the Gelbke Art Gallery showcases just a snapshot of what Carlton, who teaches printmaking at Hiram, has done in the past 15 years to renew the town he knew growing up. On display through Dec. 21, the gallery features murals that had been displayed billboard-style on buildings, all featuring the movie and theater culture that was once prominent in the city.

Carlton’s memories of Youngstown are numerous: attending Youngstown State University for college, getting his first job at McKelvey’s Department Store and window shopping on West Federal Street.

“I couldn’t get over that all that stuff had been shut down,”
he said. “The street, West Federal Street, that I used to walk down every day, was just completely empty. My desire was to fill West Federal Street and Downtown Youngstown with these projects.”

And he did. Though the work on display at the Gelbke Art Gallery is theater-centric, the scope of his work is much broader.

His first project, in the mid-1990s, featured local artists’ work on display in storefronts. From that, grew a project that displayed the billboard-size murals on buildings. And most recently, he headed a project that celebrated the year 2010 and featured 2,010 faces, combined into murals displayed throughout the city.

Over the years, Carlton has obtained permission from a variety of Youngstown-area museums, including the Butler Institute of American Art and the Youngstown Historical Society,  to use images from their collections for the murals. The only requirement, he said, is that the artwork deals with Youngstown.

The murals project is called Museum Without Walls. And the murals on display downtown truly do recreate the history of the city, just as a museum would, all while beautifying the landscape. Carlton said that years later, he still gets joy out of seeing people appreciate his work.

“Now Youngstown is in much much better condition,” he said, in contrast to the city’s condition when he first returned. “But in those days, the people who lived around Downtown, to see them able to walk up and down the street and have something to look at, was uplifting, and it still is.”

View more photos of the gallery on Flickr.