Art Installation To Welcome Pope Francis To Philadelphia



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A Philadelphia artist has been commissioned to welcome the pope with a public art display. She's reinterpreting one of the pope's favorite pieces of art: a baroque painting of the Virgin Mary.

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Let's hear the story now of a woman who went beyond the call of duty. She is an artist in Philadelphia. Her task was to create something to welcome Pope Francis to her city later this month. Here's NPR's Marisa Penaloza.

MARISA PENALOZA, BYLINE: One of Pope Francis's favorite pieces of art is a baroque painting of the Virgin Mary. It shows her untying knots in flowing white fabric with the help of angels. The painting is called "Mary The Undoer Of Knots." It symbolizes solutions to life challenges.

MEG SALIGMAN: I am Meg Saligman. I am a professional public artist.

PENALOZA: Last year, she was commissioned to make a public work of art to welcome Pope Francis to Philadelphia. And though the German painting is the inspiration for Saligman's project, the idea of making a replica didn't excite her. So she thought...

SALIGMAN: What if we reinterpret the painting? How can we make this meaningful? We're including all face, all ethnicities.

PENALOZA: So she visited churches, congregations, homeless shelters, public areas and used the web, asking people to write down a personal struggle on a white plastic ribbon. Saligman turns around a narrow, tall, black cabinet on wheels with white ribbons hanging from it.

SALIGMAN: So this is what, behind you here, is what we bring. So you would come up and untie one.

PENALOZA: Imagine a dome - it's really a grotto - a wooden cave of sorts hammered together with bent strips of cedar. It's about 20 by 13 feet tall. Saligman then tied the white ribbons together into longer strips and then wove them onto the structure. It sits just outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia. That's where Pope Francis will say mass later this month. The idea is to have every inch of the dome covered with these messages to get people to share their experiences, says Saligman.

SALIGMAN: People have expressed a desire for inclusivity of all so that none are marginalized. And it's also issues of homelessness and hunger, struggle, issues of race and immigration.

PENALOZA: Teresa Herrera stands next to a wall in Meg Saligman's studio in North Philadelphia. It's plastered with ribbons. She's looking for hers. About 30,000 have been collected.

TERESA HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PENALOZA: "This is mine," she says, "right here."

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PENALOZA: Her son was deported four years ago.

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PENALOZA: "I ask that my family's made whole one day," she reads. "I pray for my marriage and my children."

And just like the artist intended, Herrera says it gives her comfort and hope to share her own troubles and to read those of others. Marisa Penaloza, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.