Stories Invincible: The fading legacy of one of Camden’s greatest artists
History is not only about what happened — it’s about what we remember. And in Camden, NJ, that memory is becoming difficult to trace.In Camden, NJ, that history can be hard to trace — even when hiding in plain sight.
The mural depicted above, located along Haddon Avenue, has been in my life for as long as I can remember. Still, the apparent mystery behind it had its roots planted deeply in the city by a legendary artist.
I’d always wanted to figure out the history behind the creator of this mural, to tell their story for my generation and others, and-if possible-have a hand in preserving it. Through Stories Invincible, I received the opportunity to uncover the truth.
These murals — The women keep our skies from falling and Flight to the city — are located on Pine Street and Mount Ephraim Avenue between Camden’s downtown and historic Parkside neighborhoods. Parkside is a cultural center, home to food staples Corrine’s and Donkey’s, Black-owned hair shops, the Temple of Islam #20, and more.
Despite all this, the area (like many across Camden) has seen its fair share of challenges and decline through the years. The murals reflect the spirit of this space. Once vibrant with life, the murals have now succumbed to time, their colors bleeding into each other, creating a palimpsest of forgotten stories.
We began our research there, noting the loss of detail and thinking of ways to potentially restore the mural. Our next step was to reach out to Camden City Hall about ownership of the artwork. Little did we know, that would lead the original owner to us.
When Kimberly Camp contacted us, her message was as bold as her artwork: No one is to lay a finger on those murals without her say-so.
We invited her out for coffee and to finally get the true story behind her artwork. During the sit-down, Camp took us back to her roots, to painting her first mural in Jamaica with her friend Alberto Becerra and Nashormeh Lindo. Using only watercolor mixed with egg yolk they were able to visualize a concept that would stick with her for years to come.
In the mid-80s, Camden saw a rise in the defacement of buildings with graffiti and city government needed a way to transmute this possible creative potential into a community project. As Ms Camp was pushing her way through gradute school she recieved a call about this project with unfornetley almost no time and no resources to excute and prepare for this. “They wanted me to come to a meeting with only 1 day’s notice. As a director at the Smithsonian, that was not possible with so little notice. They never called again — never asked for a price”. With the lack of support from the city, Ms Camp still stepped forth with leaders Pat Darden Director of the office of housing and community development for Camden, and Art Thompson, launching the ‘Artistic design program’ to combat this problem.
Their first mission was to build a staff of helping hands and they did so by getting the word out to artists and volunteers. Led by Camp, multiple artists submitted art concepts for the mural, and 20 youth volunteers were gathered to engage their discipline, teamwork, and creativity during their summer break.
More than 20 murals were created around the city during this time though only Flight To The City and Women Keep Our Skies From Fallen still stand visually intact. “Both of which were my tribute to the strength and tenacity of African American men and women.” Says Ms Camp
Since the 80s, Camp has gone on to have an illustrious arts career, featured in galleries across the States and around the world. Her legacy, she says, is fading just like the mural. While many Camden residents know the mural and think fondly of it, few know the mind behind it or that she’s still actively creating from her workshop on Haddon avenue in Collingswood less than a 15 minute drive from her murals.
In the decades that have passed, Camden city reached out to her once to refurbish the mural but were unable to meet her asking price. They have tried to bring in other artists from outside of Camden, but Camp’s insistence over her creation has left the artwork untouched to this day.
In bringing Camp’s tale to light, my goal is to bring awareness to the local arts legend and rally support behind her finally getting to retouch her mural all these years later. We are fighting for support from City Hall as well as other arts organizations who believe in the cause, as well as community volunteers to help paint once we have all our supplies.
Friends and relatives only have foggy memory of the murals and the lack of digital footprint of the murals shows how much remains to be done in preserving this piece of the city’s heritage. Restoring the mural is more than just physical preservation. It’s a statement of resilience, a step towards changing how the world perceives Camden, reframing its narrative through the lens of art and prosperity.
Not only does it prolong the imagery of the mural, but it digs into the beautiful legacy of what our elders created, this project honors them and will be made possible by your support.
Kayla Maxwell-McEady, also known as Kay Soul/Katrance, was born in Camden where both sides of her family have deep roots. She was raised both in Pennsauken and Camden. She believes that creation other than procreation is why she was put on this earth — to create art.
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