The giant mural shows Harriet Tubman extending an encouraging hand to people walking by a Cambridge museum that preserves and showcases her legacy.
Finished Monday, it’s already becoming a hit on social media, and living up to the challenge its painter set for himself.
Just an hour after putting a final protective coating on the mural on an outside wall of the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center, Michael Rosato explained that he felt challenged to depict Tubman, probably the most famous conductor on the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad, in a way that would capture her spirit and engage the viewer.
He chose the moment when she would reach out to a runaway slave, offering her hand to lead that man or woman to freedom.
The mural, he said, would have to capture “the compassion it would take to convince them to take the hand,” as well as “the look of authority, so that they would take it.”
The mural already has started gaining fans. A photograph showing three-year-old Lovie Hope Duncan reaching out to Tubman’s extended hand had attracted 11,000 likes on Twitter by Tuesday, and been retweeted more than 1,900 times.
Many people have felt moved to comment, saying things like “Gave me chills,” “awesome,” “That’s all good stuff there” and “Infinite passing of the baton.”
Lovie’s grandmother, Tracy Kilgore Lynndee, took the photo while the two of them were out for a walk last week.
“We came around the bend [and] it startled her for a second," said Lynndee, who co-runs the Maiden Maryland gift shop about a block away from the mural. “She wasn't expecting it. But just as quick, she was over (being startled), and she went over. She wanted to give her a high-five."
“It’s powerful,” Rosato said of the mural. “I had hoped that it was powerful enough to get that reaction.”
The museum is looking to have a ceremony celebrating the mural, hopefully sometime in June, said retired Prince George’s County educator William Jarmon, a member of the center’s board.
“It’s so impressive,” said Jarmon, adding that it was a thrill watching work on the mural progress. “It’s beyond anything we could expect.”
This isn’t the first time Rosato, who lives in Dorchester County’s Church Creek, about three miles from the famed abolitionist’s birthplace, has painted Tubman. Her likeness also can be found on a historical mural along U.S. Route 50, near Cambridge. “There’s a rich history of black heritage here in Cambridge that really isn’t known to many people.”
Rosato, 59, said he spent about 12 days working on the 14-by-28-foot mural, and was able to do it between projects he’s working on at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. In all, Rosato said, he spent about two months working on the mural, from early meetings with the community to its completion Monday.
“I realized it had the potential for something spectacular,” he said. “Watching people interact with it, watching people who are saying to you, as you are painting it, ‘I can’t speak’ — it takes my breath away.
“This one,” he said, “just clicks on so many levels.”