Georgetown Current

Local Graffiti Artist Debuts in Georgetown for FAD

October 29, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Local artist Kelly Towles likes to root for the underdog.

So when he thought about a subject for a Georgetown public art project highlighting the C&O Canal, mules came readily to mind.

“They put in the work,” Towles said of the horse/donkey hybrids that 19th-century operators used to pull the boats and barges along the shipping canal.

Now a pair of his colorful mules adorn the boarded front entrance of the shuttered Latham Hotel at 3000 M St. He started and finished the project last Saturday as part of the second annual “Fashion Art Design” event, which also featured a D.C. premiere of the aging-in-style documentary “Advanced Style” and a performance by Christylez Bacon, a Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist and Duke Ellington School of the Arts grad.

The daylong “FAD Georgetown” was put together by the local business improvement district, which also tied in part of its “Georgetown Gongoozlers,” a six-month-long public art project. Since August, three local artists have showcased their original pieces about the C&O Canal in the same location.

Towles is the project’s third artist. And for this street painter, the mural gave him an opportunity to debut in Georgetown, a more established, clean-cut neighborhood than the up-and-coming locations where he has previously worked.

Last year, he helped enlivened the facade of an empty federal property near the Washington Navy Yard in Southwest, which eventually was torn down to make room for a newer office building. And in 2010 he created a larger-than-life mural called “Scout” near the U Street corridor featuring anime-looking characters.

Towles’ art has also appeared at some of the city’s new restaurants and bars. He was invited to participate in the Georgetown public art project by business improvement district officials who have become familiar with his cutting-edge work, which he partly describes on his website as featuring “striking characters with physical deformities.”

Last Saturday, he spent almost the entire afternoon creating the large upper bodies of his whimsical mules.

As he worked, Towles listened to the heavy metal tunes of Deafhaven on his white earphones as Georgetown shoppers, carrying bags from high-end shops such as Coach and Michael Kors, passed by, watched him paint and snapped pictures. Some children even sat behind him, mesmerized by the artistic display.

"It’s crazy that they let me do this,” he said as he was wrapping up early Saturday evening.

Before Towles, two artists had already created and displayed murals on construction barricades at the same spot on M Street.

Nena Depaz’s mixed-media work, which includes materials collected from the canal’s towpath, was on display from Aug. 1 to Sept. 4. Next up was Georgetown resident Sidney Lawrence, who created a black-and-white cityscape of the neighborhood with the canal depicted in blue and red. His mural was displayed until Oct. 15.

Towles’ work will be on view until mid-November. Following him will be Ekaterina Krupko, whose piece will remain until early January. Each installation will then be auctioned off to help revitalize education programming for the C&O Canal and contribute to the construction of a new barge.

This article appears in the Oct. 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Young Georgetowner Aims to Name Alley

October 22, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Strange odors, darting vermin, unkempt trash bins and shady activities often give public alleys an unappealing reputation. A quiet rear corridor in the Georgetown Historic District, however, defies this negative perception.

The T-shaped, red-brick alley sits behind the 3200 block of Volta Place, where it abuts the stone-covered, cottage-inspired Georgetown Lutheran Church on Wisconsin Avenue. The alley has a secluded atmosphere, due to having only one point of egress, from the south.

And soon, this alley may adopt a more formal identity. That’s thanks to 12-year-old Raya Kenney, who inspired a D.C. Council bill to name the corridor behind her house, which has served as a play area for neighborhood children.

Raya Kenney’s research helped her discover Hazel B. Cashell as a suitable namesake for the alley. (Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current) Raya Kenney’s research helped her discover Hazel B. Cashell as a suitable namesake for the alley.

Two weeks ago Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans introduced the “Cashell Alley Designation Act of 2014,” which would name the space after Hazel B. Cashell, who in 1869 purchased the Volta Place lots and developed row houses there — information the young history buff Kenney uncovered in her thorough research. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29.

“At the end of this summer, when my mom and I were cleaning the alley, I realized it didn’t have a name,” she said. “I wanted to name it … to make it sound more homey.”

Next week, Kenney will help present her alley-naming initiative to the Committee of the Whole before the full council votes on the bill. The push coincidentally follows other efforts this year by the Historic Preservation Office of the D.C. Department of Planning to refurbish and formally name historic alleys, as part of a vision to reactivate and enliven them.

Kenney, a homeschooled student involved in several extracurricular activities, initially wanted to name the Georgetown corridor after her cat. But following advice from her mother, the curious tween who recently won a city-sponsored poetry contest searched for a more “historic” moniker.

Then, for guidance maneuvering through the civic proceedings, she contacted Evans’ office and the city’s preservation office. The staff said she had already done a good portion of the legwork when she reached out. Last month, her initiative won support from the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, after she made the case at the September meeting.

To start, Kenney went to the Peabody Room, a special collection of neighborhood history at the Georgetown Library, where she found 19th-century maps and real estate documents showing Cashell’s ownership. To confirm that the chosen name would be historically accurate, Kim Williams of the city’s preservation office helped Kenney check her facts.

Although Pierre L’Enfant’s original 18th-century layout for the federal capital included alleyways, the Georgetown neighborhood didn’t develop alleys until after it was integrated with the District in 1871, according to Williams. She’s the author of a citywide alley survey the Planning Office released this year to highlight the extent of these corridors’ “history and cultural landscapes.”

Historically, most of these rear alleys were named after “their owners, residents or activities that took place” in them, according to the “DC Historic Alley Building Survey.” Today, the city recognizes a few of them, such as the historic Blagden Alley/Naylor Court in Shaw and Cady’s Alley in Georgetown.

At the Washingtoniana Division at the city’s main library, Kenney “enthusiastically” looked through construction permits and other documents to confirm that “Cashell Alley” was an appropriate name, said Williams.

“The Cashell family maintained the ownership of the property up until 1923, at which time they subdivided the lots, built the alley and the back of the houses,” Williams said.

Williams said the advancement of this alley-naming proposal in the council is “a great start” in the Planning Office’s overall goals. In the future, she said, “there should be a more strategic systematic approach” in developing alleys into attractive public spaces and giving them names and identities.

This article appears in the Oct. 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Local Marine Runs 65 Miles for Cystic Fibrosis

October 15, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Jesse Sjoberg had a bleak start last Saturday in his quest to run 65 miles.

The dark skies poured chilly rain when he left his Palisades home around 4 a.m., posing a new hurdle for someone accustomed to running the monumental distance in warmer and drier weather.

But the conditions didn’t thwart the 42-year-old Marine, who recently relocated from San Diego. Rain or shine, night or day, overseas or stateside, he had vowed to take on the challenge for his wife, Jacqui, 36, who was born with cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems.

“This is to show her and the boys to never give up. You keep going,” said Sjoberg, referring to his sons, Hunter, 5, and Aden, 7. “It’s been a rewarding experience.”

Over the past four years, Sjoberg has tackled this distance in an event he created that’s now called “65 Miles for 65 Roses.” The name dates back to the 1960s, when a young patient mispronounced “cystic fibrosis” as “65 roses,” which is now used as a benign-sounding moniker.

Since the event’s founding, he and his family have raised around $72,000, according to Denise Brownlee, executive director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s D.C. chapter. And they did so with Sjoberg as the sole participant.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Brownlee. “What Jesse proves is that grass-roots funding works.”

Established in 1955, the donor-supported foundation has raised and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop treatment and find a cure. The organization estimates that 30,000 children and adults in the United States have the disease, with about a thousand new cases diagnosed each year.

When Jacqui was born, she wasn’t expected to live past school age. Thanks to recent medical breakthroughs, she’s thriving.

“I do what I can,” she said. “I still exercise. I’m just not as fast as everybody else. I cough a lot. I have to catch my breath a lot. But we’re doing OK. You’ve got to keep trying.”

For its fourth season — the first time in D.C. — Sjoberg’s run has raised more than $13,000, according to the foundation’s website tracking his donations.

The family moved here last July from San Diego, where the ultrarunner took on the challenge amid clear and sunny skies for two years, sometimes drawing local news coverage and inspiring other cystic fibrosis patients to see how far they could run alongside him.   

He originally got the idea for the event when he was based in the Persian Gulf. Since he missed a Great Strides three-mile walk organized by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, he challenged himself to run 65 miles. Accompanied at times by colleagues, he ran around a 1.25-mile loop 52 times inside a U.S. military base in Bahrain.

On Saturday, Sjoberg first ran to the National Mall and then headed to Hains Point to make several loops around the southern tip of East Potomac Park. For some lengths, he had running partners. His two brothers joined him for portions, while Jacqui, Aden and Hunter briefly ran with him in the morning.

Before 2 p.m. with still overcast skies, Sjoberg was accompanied by one brother on a bike and a former roommate at the U.S. military base in Bahrain. In good spirits, he was approaching 45 miles, according to his GPS watch.

“Trust me, it won’t be this good for the rest of the run,” he said.

He finished in 13 hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds, according to the run’s Facebook page.

Sjoberg hasn’t always been a runner, starting sometime after he met Jacqui. He said he was aware of her condition before his brother introduced them. But they say “it was love at first sight.” The couple has been together for 16 years.

“He’s been amazing support with everything,” Jacqui said. “He’s been fantastic through hospitalizations and weeks of IV treatments. Now he’s doing these runs for me.

“It started off with [the idea] that when I got bad enough, he could at least do a lung transplant and donate part of his lungs to save me. That was his whole reason for running years and years ago. Now he likes the challenge of how far he can go,” she said.

This article appears in the Oct. 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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