Indy’s Painted Ladies

We went looking for badass women who loom large on local murals.

In early November, a street artist debuted a ginormous, four-story mural of Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg in San Francisco and got the world’s attention. That made us wonder: Where are all the painted ladies that we can look up to in Indianapolis?

And so, with the help of the Arts Council of Indianapolis, along with Jordan Thomas, co-founder of the first Indy Mural Fest, we came up with our “mural-list” of seven inspirational women whose portraits loom large from buildings or walls. Mural-and-mimosa crawl, anyone?

Marguerite Young, writer/gadfly/eccentric

See her: On the side of the Tube Factory ArtSpace, 1125 Cruft St.

Artist: Jules Muck, a.k.a. MuckRock

Marguerite Young’s obituary in the New York Times called her a “cherished Greenwich Village eccentric” who wrote like James Joyce, partied with Truman Capote, and loved to regale her friends with stories of her romantic conquests. Young, who was born in Indy, wrote one novel, Miss McIntosh, My Darling, in 1965, along with short stories, poetry, and essays, and gained a cult following as well as admirers that included Anais Nin and Anne Tyler of The Accidental Tourist fame.

The mural was modeled from a photograph taken of Young in 1948, around the time she started writing her novel. Young died in 1995, at age 87.

Mari Evans, poet

See her: 448 Mass Ave.

Artist: Michael “Alkemi” Jordan

Evans, a major figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, was called a “hidden treasure in Indianapolis”—though she was admired nationally and internationally as a poet, thoughtful social critic, and community activist. (She was once featured on a Ugandan postage stamp.)

Evans died at age 93 in 2017, a year after she was honored with a 30-foot mural on Mass Ave. Shauta Marsh, the Big Car Collective curator who organized the project, told the IndyStar, “There’s no one who can compare to her and replace her.”

Charlotte “Pink” Cathcart

See her: 907 N. Pennsylvania St.

Artist: The Department of Public Words

Thanks to Charlotte Cathcart, known to her friends as “Pink,” we have an invaluable window into Indy’s past—the days of candlelight, horse-drawn street cars, and evenings spent reading Charles Dickens aloud. Cathcart, who was born in 1877, recorded her memories of growing up at 9th and Pennsylvania streets, and her manuscript, Indianapolis From Our Old Corner, was published into a book by the Indiana Historical Society.

Cathcart was an early student at Shortridge, embellished her typing skills to get a job at the Indianapolis News, and served as a medical records keeper alongside Indiana doctors and nurses who were stationed in France during World War I. And even as Indianapolis rapidly changed, she wasn’t one to idealize the good ol’ days: “She retained her youthful adaptability, made many friends and in later years was deeply interested in the problems of young people,” according to a 1964 News obituary.

Debbie Harry, musician

See her: 806 Broad Ripple Ave., behind Indy CD & Vinyl

Artist: Jules Muck, a.k.a. MuckRock

Fall 2019 was a good season for the front woman of new-wave band Blondie: She released a memoir, Face It, penning it from what she called “my sort of warped little perspective,” and she started giving Broad Ripple music fans the side eye from a mural painted on the Indy CD & Vinyl shop.

Madam C.J. Walker, beauty entrepreneur

See her: Inside the Alexander Hotel, 333 S. Delaware St.

Artist: Sonya Clark

Struggling with bald spots on her scalp, Madam C.J. Walker (1967-1919) had a dream one night that revealed an inventive formula for a hair-care product. She set up a lab and beauty school in Indy, created an internationally successful line of products for African-American women, and hired and trained women to become stylists and salespeople.

Walker went from a washerwoman making $1.50 a week to one the wealthiest, self-made women during her era—and left a legacy of philanthropy and political activism. Her great grand-daughter, A’Lelia Bundles, wrote a biography, On Her Own Ground, that will premiere as a Netflix series next year.

Artist Sonya Clark used nearly 4,000 fine-toothed black pocket combs to make the 10-foot portrait inside the Alexander Hotel.

Bjork, composer/musician/singer

See her: 1052 Virginia Ave.

Artist: Anonymous

Just east of Virginia Avenue is a “living” alleyway that’s one of the few sanctioned graffiti areas left in town, according to the Indy Arts Council. In 2012, an anonymous artist painted Bjork, the Icelandic pop experimentalist who’s about to wrap up her global Cornucopia tour, a celebration of nature and femininity and “her most elaborate stage concert yet.”

Dolly Parton, country music star

See her: 653 Virginia Ave., on the Bluebeard and Amelia’s Bakery building

Artist: Jules Muck, a.k.a. MuckRock

The Dollyverse just keeps expanding: The beloved, big-haired legend has a new podcast, Dolly Parton’s America, a new holiday ornament, and a new Netflix series, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. She also has a new mural in Fletcher Place, sporting prison-style tats that pay homage to her hit songs about two soul-sucking phenomena: cut-throat, clueless bosses (“9 to 5) and hot-mess “other women” (“Jolene”).

Photos: Ken Norris

Amanda Kingsbury hopes she never loses her “youthful adaptability,” even while being unfairly implicated, by her teenage daughter, as a member of the “Karen” generation.


Related Posts