After Casarez’s death in 2014, Ortiz and Briana Dawkins spent a month and a half painting the mural a year later. They also enlisted help from her family and friends to paint parts of the mural, bringing even more meaning to the project. While Ortiz said she had been in talks with Midwood about using a $1 million public art bonus to cover the cost of creating a new tribute to Casarez in the area, she hoped to also salvage her work, even after a demolition she expected to be notified about in advance.
The mural was painted on parachute cloth, which the artist described as a “polyester fiber that adheres to the brick wall.” With the plans to demolish the building, Ortiz said she still believed it would have been possible to collect large pieces of the mural to reassemble and save. She doesn’t understand why the building is still standing, but Casarez was painted over.
“There’s so much symbolism. Gloria represented a group of people who are marginalized, not seen or heard and have felt the effects of erasure, so for her to be painted over by white paint is re-traumatizing so many community,” she said.
Mural Arts, a group that had been in discussions with the developer about creating a new way to honor Casarez and expanding the plan to include Henry Minton — a prominent Black abolitionist who died in 1883 — tweeted it was “shocked” and “we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again.” (Minton’s home and place of business is next door to the mural and will also will be demolished by the developer.)
A spokesperson for Midwood Investment and Development told TODAY in a statement that the company is “truly sorry for the pain we’ve caused Gloria’s family and the local LGBTQ community.”
“Because this site holds deep significance for the LGBTQ community and city, we began discussions months ago with Mural Arts Philadelphia about creating a meaningful piece of art in honor of Gloria as part of our project. We also agreed to make a $655,000 donation to Mural Arts for that artwork. Finally, we offered ground floor space in the Camac Bath Building to the LGBTQ community free of charge,” the spokesperson said.
“We have worked actively in Philadelphia for more than two decades and look forward to fulfilling our agreement with Mural Arts Philadelphia to honor the memory and legacy of Gloria Casarez and Henry Minton.”
Her widow, Tricia Dressel, described her heartbreak in a statement to TODAY about how “the white paint was so fresh that I could smell it as I looked up to try to find the outline of Gloria and my interlocked hands with our wedding bands.”
“This white paint now covers the images of Gloria’s family — who generations ago helped lay the stone for the Ben Franklin Bridge and the ground for Philadelphia’s first Spanish church — La Milagrosa. This white paint now covers the images of our community members who are living out Gloria’s legacy every day,” she said.
On Wednesday, hours after her work was erased, Ortiz knew she had to do something.
She went to the location on South 12th Street in the Gayborhood and projected an image of Casarez onto a wall, along with the message, “You can’t erase our history.”