Artist Wants to Preserve Murals Painted on Harlem Security Gates
June 1, 2011 8:29am
Franco the Great says he fears zoning changes will force his painted gates to be replaced.
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—Tourists from all around the world are delivered to Harlem by tour bus to see the murals on the corrugated steel security gates of the storefronts along 125th Street painted by Franco Gaskin, better known as "Franco the Great."
Gaskin began painting them as a way to beautify the area in the years after shop owners along Harlem's main thoroughfare put up the metal barriers following the riots that occured after the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr.
"When the gates came down, Harlem looked like a prison camp," Gaskin, now 83, said while standing next to one of his murals at the old Victoria Theater. "People told me I was wasting my time and that I should be using my talents downtown. My response was that Harlem needs some beauty."
Now, the roughly 25 murals that Gaskin has painted along the street when Harlem was still spoken of as a place to be avoided are a tourist attraction.
Every Sunday morning, Gaskin can be found across from the Apollo Theater on 125th Street with tourists from Japan, Brazil and Italy selling wares related to the now-famous murals. The acrylic and oil murals have also earned him invitations to work in Africa, Europe and Japan, Gaskin said.