PHILADELPHIA, PA – When historic preservationists went to re-plaster the walls inside notorious mob boss Al Capone’s cell at the Eastern State Penitentiary, they found over 20 layers of paint underneath the gangster’s old wall. Some of the layers ended up being artistic murals, likely created by the inmates.
Recent conservation efforts return one cell to how it likely appeared in the late 1920s when Capone was incarcerated at Eastern State. A second cell interprets the history of artistry that was uncovered during the conservation process.
There are also three other new artist installations opening this Spring at ESP.
PHL17’s Matt Alba attended the opening for the new exhibits and spoke with artist Alexander Rosenberg about Eastern State’s history of preservation. Rosenberg is the artist behind A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary or, Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It. Being a climber, Alex demonstrated different ways to climb the prison’s walls!
Have you ever walked by the @easternstate penitentiary and wondered what it might have looked like as inmate escaped? Well, wonder no more! Today Alex Rosenberg, who designed the new exhibit "Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It," scaled the walls at ESP! @phl17 pic.twitter.com/E3K5TKRzmO
— Matt Alba (@mattalbamedia) May 2, 2019
In 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary closed; at the same time, the concept of “clean climbing” was gaining traction in the worldwide climbing community. Drawing inspiration from these intersecting narratives, Alex rock-climbed a dozen routes on the inside of Eastern State’s 30-foot walls using “clean climbing” techniques. He also mapped and named each climb, producing a guidebook. The exhibit also fabricates a rack of traditional climbing gear from materials that would have been available within the penitentiary at its closing.
Three New Artist Installations:
Eastern State Penitentiary will host three new and 10 returning artist installations in 2019. New artist installations include Airplanes by Benjamin Wills, #BlackGirlhood by Dehanza Rogers, and A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary or, Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It by Alexander Rosenberg. The projects were chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes—including perspectives on the contemporary American criminal justice system and the penitentiary’s fascinating past—with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.
Cell Mural Photo Credit: