Creator’s Gift was the first public mural “east of the river,” painted on the wall of a bakery at Division and Nannie Helen Burroughs Aves., N.E. (then Dean Ave.), in the far-northeast neighborhood of Deanwood (Ward 7). Jerome Wheeler created the massive allegorical piece during the summer before beginning high school at Ellington School for the Arts. The mural draws from Michelangelo’s frescoes depicting the Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
The project was sponsored by Sign of the Times Cultural Workshop and Gallery, one of the earliest contemporary artists’ cooperatives in DC. James Greggs opened the co-op in the historic African American in 1970 and continues to direct programs there. The neighborhood includes Nannie Helen Burroughs School, named for the pioneering educator and civil rights leader, who founded the institution as the National Training School for Girls and Women in 1909. Sign of the Times initially ran a series of workshops and a Summer Youth Program that included visual arts, dance, and music.
Mr. Greggs noticed the wall art going up in Adams Morgan and decided to add murals to the offerings. He encouraged the students to focus on accomplishments of African Americans and neighborhood lore in developing mural themes, with tapes from writings of Malcolm X and LeRoi Jones providing inspiration. Wheeler’s original concept included musical instruments and art in the foreground, but time ran out before he could complete the details.
The figures in front of the mural were passersby the day the photo was taken. A black and white slide was the only image available at the time the website went up, although we are attempting to recover a color Polaroid. The original colors were blue sky with white clouds, blue and green globe, flesh-colored figures and hand of God, and a red, white, and blue banner honoring the colors of the flag. The bakery was eventually sold to a supply shop and the mural painted over. The site is now deserted, with only a blank retaining wall remaining in the foreground.