The Robert Hieronimus mural at St. Paul Street and Lafayette Avenue, one of 10 chosen to grace blank walls around the city, heralds America’s Bicentennial. In addition to many of the nation’s symbols — Liberty, the eagle and even the eye of Providence atop a pyramid — Baltimore’s Aquarian artist added the Baltimore Battle Monument. (Clarence B. Garrett, Baltimore Sun file photo, July 6, 1974)
When Bob Hieronimus officially unveils his restored and expanded “We the People” mural in Charles North Friday night (at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and St. Paul Street), it will be but the latest chapter in an extraordinary tale of art, symbolism, activism and civic beautification in all its many forms that goes back nearly half a century.
Living in Baltimore nearly his entire life (he was born in 1943 and was raised near Waverly), Hieronimus became active on the local art scene in the ’60s; those who attended the annual outdoor art shows at Loyola College and around Druid Hill Park could hardly have missed his paintings – colorful, exuberant displays of modern art that tended to stick out at a time when many local artists had yet to advance beyond pencil sketches and traditional landscapes. A painting he once displayed at Loyola was at least 10 feet wide and quite the eye-catcher.
Robert Hieronimus, at left, a local artist, and Victor P. Doda, right, president of the Locust Point Civic Association, presented a smaller copy of an exterior mural that Hieronmus and two other artists painted to Mayor William Donald Schaefer, center, in a City Hall ceremony. The huge mural depicts two centuries of Baltimore history — from the American Revolution to today’s Inner Harbor — with “All American City” painted at top. It is located at Fort Avenue and Lawrence Street in Locust Point. (Clarence B. Garrett, Baltimore Sun Photo, October, 27, 1977)
In the 1970s, Hieronimus’ artwork started appearing on walls throughout the city – perhaps most notably in Charles North, a community where he had lived for much of the ’60s. His “Bicentennial Mural,” one of 10 commissioned by the City of Baltimore and championed by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, borrowed symbols from the Great Seal of the United States and other patriotic sources to celebrate the nation’s birthday by reminding his fellow Baltimoreans where their American heritage originated.
To call Hieronimus merely a muralist, however, would be to sorely miss the point. He painted a bus that made it to Woodstock, photographs of which graced the pages of Life, Rolling Stone and scores of other publications. He’s written exhaustive, enlightening and entertaining books on the role of symbols in society and on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (a movie on which he can declaim endlessly).
Hieronimus used to speak philosophy and symbolism with Jimi Hendrix and has worked hard to ensure his friend’s continuing musical legacy (often in partnership with Hendrix’s half-sister, Janie). He hosts “21st Century Radio” on WCBM with his wife, Zohara, as a forum for new-age topics. And his gleefully decorated art cars have been gracing Baltimore’s streets for decades.
Robert Hieronimus, an artist friend of Robert DeHaven, who married Pamela Agnew, walks up to the door of Towson Presbyterian Church, where he was turned away. He was later allowed to enter the church for the eremony when his name was found on the guest list. (AP wirephoto, June 21, 1969)
He even gained a moment of humorous notoriety in June 1969 when, with his long hair flying, he was escorted out of Towson Presbyterian Church when he showed up for the wedding of Spiro Agnew’s daughter, Pamela (a wedding where one of the attendees was President Richard Nixon). He was later let back in (turns out he knew both the bride and groom, and had been invited). A few hours later, at the wedding reception, the vice president apologized.
Robert Hieronimus, author of “Founding Fathers, Secret Societies,” is almost finished with the art car that he designed and painted with the help of his wife, Zohara Hieronimus. The car is replete with symbolism and features bright colors and designs. (Nicole Martyn, Baltimore Sun Media Group photo, March 10, 2006)
And now he’s spent $30,000 of his own money to breathe new life into his “Bicentennial Mural,” preserving it, enlarging it and re-titling it “We the People.” Stop by and take a look sometime, and realize that, without people like Bob Hieronimus, Baltimore would be a much less energized — not to mention colorful — place.
Read more about Robert Hieronimus and his Charles North mural by clicking here.
To see a photo gallery of Baltimore’s 50 best murals, click here.