The Iconic Rose Johnson Mural in Phoenix Is Gone

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A mural painted by Rose Johnson in 1998 has been buffed out with beige paint, after years of speculation about what would become of the iconic artwork that’s been marred with graffiti in recent years. The mural covered three sides of a former mortuary building that sits on the west side of Thomas Road just south of 16th Street.

Johnson was a pioneer of the local arts scene who died in 2009 at the age of 48. Titled The Prayer of St. Francis, the piece had several humanitarian themes and included diverse faces reflecting the history of the community that surrounds it. Johnson’s subjects danced under trees, played music, planted flowers, and more.

This is all that remains of The Prayer of St. Francis mural painted by Rose Johnson.EXPAND

This is all that remains of The Prayer of St. Francis mural painted by Rose Johnson.

Lynn Trimble

Today, just a single face remains — on a small portion of the peeling mural that remains behind a bus stop on 16th Street. The rest of the mural is gone, and the building’s owner has yet to publicly announce specific plans for the site.

The Civitan Foundation, which serves children and adults living with developmental disabilities, bought the building in 2019. In late 2020 the nonprofit issued a call for new artwork to replace the mural, which was circulated through the artist opportunity page on the Arizona Commission on the Arts website.

Phoenix New Times reached out to the Civitan Foundation at the time, but never heard back about their specific plans. As of this writing, the organization has not responded to our request for comment on the decision to paint over Johnson’s artwork.

Some details were included in that call for art. “The mural must be painted on durable panels that can be attached to the exterior wall,” the written call indicated, adding that the mural would be installed on east- and south-facing portions of the building.

The call also noted that the mural needed to be painted with anti-graffiti materials, reflecting the fact that The Prayer of St. Francis has repeatedly been tagged.

Here's how the building looks now, after Rose Johnson's mural was covered in beige paint.EXPAND

Here’s how the building looks now, after Rose Johnson’s mural was covered in beige paint.

Lynn Trimble

For a time, some community members hoped to restore the mural.

Michael Anderson spearheaded a 2017 effort to save the mural while serving as head of the Coronado Neighborhood Association, but crowdfunding efforts didn’t result in sufficient funding. In 2019, artists Maggie Keane and Lucretia Torva initiated a renovation plan for the mural, but the foundation didn’t move it forward.

The foundation’s artist call stated that the nonprofit was looking for an outdoor mural reflecting “the neighboring community, the character and history of the building, and Civitan Foundation’s place in the community.”

Now that the mural has been replaced with a vast expanse of beige, a piece of Phoenix art history is gone — and speculation will likely continue about the fate of a wall at the center of it all. 

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