Muralist expresses himself via his art

Brandon Spicer-Crawley’s vocabulary may be limited but that doesn’t stop him from communicating via his artwork. 

And, boy, does his art speak volumes. 

 Brandon Spicer-Crawley works on his mural during Harrisburg Mural Fest. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Mitchell.)
Brandon Spicer-Crawley works on his mural during Harrisburg Mural Fest. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Mitchell.)

The mural he painted during the recent Harrisburg Mural Fest is a testament to the talent of the 39-year-old resident of West Norriton near Philadelphia, and comes at a time when Brandon, who was born with an intellectual disability, is having one of the best creative years of his life.

There is the recent release of a book titled High Style that showcases his artwork and his pieces were exhibited in February at a major art show in New York City and again at a gallery exhibit in Philadelphia in mid-September.

“Of course I am proud of all the things he’s accomplished,” says his mother, Sandra Spicer Sharp. “I have been able to help nurture and develop the talents that he’s been given, but those talents come from God.”

With the assistance of his mother and staff from The Center for Creative Works (CCW), a Montgomery County-based organization designed to develop the potential of people with disabilities, Brandon was one of 15 artists to paint 14 murals over 10 days during Harrisburg Mural Fest.

The mural he painted at 1321 North 4th Street demonstrates Brandon’s improvisational artistic style with an abstract mural that highlight his talents. His biography notes that his art includes “abstract and figurative forms, developing electric beds of line that emanate outwards from the surface, and building vibrating, dynamic spaces that experiment with depth in composition.” 

His work has been exhibited at the Philadelphia galleries Little Berlin, Fleisher/Ollman, University City Arts League, and Pageant: Soloveev, as well as at the Outsider Art Fair in New York this past winter. He also just completed an exhibition called Word Works at the Windmere Museum in Philadelphia. There is also a plan to collaborate with legendary Philadelphia-based graffiti artist Cornbread (aka Darryl McCray, who is credited with being the first modern-day graffiti artist.)

 Brandon Spicer-Crawley takes a break from painting his mural during Harrisburg Mural Fest.
Brandon Spicer-Crawley takes a break from painting his mural during Harrisburg Mural Fest.

Samantha Mitchell, CCW’s Arts and Exhibitions Coordinator, said many of the center’s adult clients need assistance to become more expressive, but that was not the case with Brandon when he first started coming to the Center when it opened in 2011.

She said Brandon has “awesome parents” whose guidance has aided in the development of his creative talents throughout his entire life.

Fortunately for Brandon, his mother is a teacher who went back to school to obtain an additional degree in special education so she could not only teach children with special needs but also help her son reach his full potential.

She learned he had an intellectual disability when he was six months old while enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania’s Parent Infant Center. 

“They noticed he wasn’t developing at the same rate as other children,” Sharp recalled.

Being proactive in the development of her son, she enrolled him in occupational and speech therapy at a young age and later entered him in a music school so he could learn to be more expressive.

“I was working from a place where other parents did not since I had a teaching degree,” Sharp said. “I knew what questions to ask, I knew what programming to get him. Even when he graduated from high school, I knew what needed to be done.”  

As an adult, that help comes with the time he spends at CCW. The 80-plus adults enrolled in CCW’s day program are provided occupational and developmental training as well as serving as a place to explore their creativity.

“The work they are doing on behalf of young adults is extraordinary,” says Sharp. “I hope that the energy and time they (the teachers) put in are actualized financially on their behalf. Theirs is selfless work, and they are well deserving of every acknowledgement they receive. The rewards they get from the students on an intrinsic level should also be rewarded on a financial level.”

Mitchell noted the mural Brandon painted in Harrisburg was a major accomplishment for CCW, adding that the Center was elated to participate in Harrisburg Mural Fest. 

“This was a really big deal for us because we’ve never done a large-scaled painting project or a mural,” Mitchell said. ‘’For Brandon, his work is inspired by street art and also it is really cool to see his work this big and for him to have the opportunity to work in an urban environment and have the chance to interact with so many people.”

For Brandon, the mural is another step in a carefully coordinated plan to assist him in reaching his full creative potential.

“I didn’t initially make a connection to what he was going to be,” said Sharp. “I just did everything I needed to do to help him. He was always in art programs. He was always drawing, playing music and doing creative things. But now he’s doing it with direction and is in a wonderful program to help with his creative growth.”

As far as painting a mural in Harrisburg, Sharp said it was a wonderful experience for Brandon.

“The people of Harrisburg were wonderful,” Sharp said. “They gave Brandon so many comments about his work and a neighbor, who owns a candle shop at the Millworks, gave him a candle to thank him for beautifying the neighborhood.”

To learn more about Brandon’s career, check out his profile on CCW’s website and the tremendous work being performed by the Center for Creative Works.

 Brandon’s finished piece, which is located at 1321 North 4th Street near The Millworks in Harrisburg. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography.)
Brandon’s finished piece, which is located at 1321 North 4th Street near The Millworks in Harrisburg. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography.)