Friday, May 10, 2013

The Murals of Parks and Recreation

For the last few years, one of my favorite shows has been NBC’s Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler. I mean, that show is so darn funny, I can’t help myself. It has such an excellent cast and the humor is never old- how can you not love it? I also pride myself on watching Parks and Rec from the beginning- before it was a thing. It makes me feel pretty great about myself. It’s the little things in life- right?

If you've never lived and seen the show, it centers around the dysfunctional Parks Department in the fictional small town of Pawnee, Indiana. Led by Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), an unflappable Civil Servant, the department manages to accomplish some great things, with some great humor. I'm not going to summarize five seasons of a hit TV show on here- but my advice is to watch it as soon as possible!

Anyhow, I’ve always been so impressed by the use of art in Parks and Rec. The writers really appreciate the meaning that can go in the piece and the humor that can come out of it. Much of Parks and Rec's in absurdist, and therefore, the art that appears in the show is hysterical because it is so absurd.
Titled "Trading Post"
I don't know what they're trading, but all the babies around are kind of freaking me out. 
I’m not the first person to recognize the creative genius that goes in the murals that appear in Pawnee’s City Hall. At first glance, they appear to be average civil murals from the New Deal portraying historical stories about the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. But once you start looking at them- you realize how crazy and even offensive they are. The history of Pawnee apparently was full of xenophobia, bloodbaths and racial tension. Part of the humor involved with the murals is that everyone in Pawnee just takes the stories for granted, but to an outsider it’s just insane. Which is obviously, the point of the murals, but I digress.

For instance, one mural shows a seemingly happy wedding between a White woman and a Wamapoo Indian in a beautiful gazebo. But zoom out and you can see the Native Americans and the US Calvary battling it out. As Leslie Knope admits, it was beautiful until “word got out and the reception turned into a bloodbath.” Just another day in the history of Pawnee.

Some of these murals are so outrageously offensive you can hardly believe it. For instance, in one titled Pawnee Zoo, there’s a zookeeper feeding animals in cages. Except one of the cages is occupied by a Jewish man, whose ethnicity apparently puzzled the people of Pawnee. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t help yourself from laughing. How can they get away with this?? 
"Ice Floe"
A Pawnee woman is sent out on an ice floe for asserting her rights
I read an article about the creation of these murals. Because it’s for TV, these pieces of art have to be more than creative, they have to be created quickly and well. Which they always are.
It’s apparently a multi-step process.

The writing department gives production designer, Ian Phillips ideas about murals they want to appear in the show. He creates a rough sketch and sends it to two people in his art department, Robin Richesson and Benton Jew. They create an illustration, which Phillips must approve before he sends it to the actual artists themselves, Stan Olexiewicz and Bridget Duffy who paint the actual painting. So, their work, the work we see on the telly, is the culmination of a large group effort. For any art snobs out there, the paintings are usually painted on canvas with acrylics
"The Trial of Chief Wanapo"
The NBC website states that the Army missed twice before hitting the Chief in the shin
I’m not going to lie, some of my favorite humorous moments come from these paintings. And I feel these people should receive such credit for creating such funny pieces that just fit in with the humor of the show so well. It’s just another example of seamlessly fitting art and media together for an incredible result.

If you interested in reading a full interview with Phillips, check out Also on that site are pictures of almost all the art that’s appeared in Parks and Rec over the last couple seasons. 

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely LOVE Parks and Rec. Thanks for all the great photos and info about the Pawnee City Hall murals- they've always caught my eye when watching the show! Acrylics on canvas, who knew?


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