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Towson community rallies around Knollwood boy fighting cancer with koi mural

A rendering shows the planned koi fish mural at Kerb restaurant in downtown Towson.
A rendering shows the planned koi fish mural at Kerb restaurant in downtown Towson. (Courtesy image/Theresa Foggo / HANDOUT)

The three painted fish — two purple, one orange — swim in a small stream of cool, blue water. The water appears to pour out of a faucet, painted to look as if it’s connected to a pipe. Or at least, that’s the plan.

The painting of the small mural, on an exterior wall of Kerb, a restaurant on East Chesapeake Avenue in Towson that serves Persian, Turkish and American food, has not yet started. But the design is rendered, an artist has been selected and funding has been secured through an anonymous donor, said David Riley, chairman of the Towson Creative Partnership.

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The painted koi outside Kerb will be the second mural officially sanctioned by the fledgling group; the first is the “Welcome to Towson” mural at the intersection of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.

At first blush, koi may not appear to have anything to do with the greater Towson community. But some may recognize the symbol from a small movement to hang carp streamers, called koinobori, around the Knollwood neighborhood and other nearby areas as a show of solidarity with Andrew Mercier, a 10-year-old local boy who is battling leukemia.

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“It’s not a large mural, but I think the message is very large,” Riley said. In Japan, the fish are associated with Children’s Day, a holiday in May that honors children and celebrates their happiness.

Paul Mercier, Andrew’s father, said the fish have made a real difference for his son. Andrew was diagnosed with leukemia on Easter Sunday and has been in and out of the hospital since then.

Mercier said he wasn’t at the hospital when Andrew first saw the rendering of the mural on Facebook, but his wife told him Andrew responded with a big smile.

"We’re certainly very grateful and thankful, just for the community as a whole,” Mercier said.

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Masoud Athari, the owner of Kerb, said he was happy to have the mural painted on his restaurant. Athari said the connection to the Mercier family was special for him, too.

From about 2004 to 2007, he said, he was living in Turkey and working in a flower shop that was inside a hospital. When there were extra flowers that didn’t sell, Athari said, they’d be bundled up and given as gifts to pediatric oncology patients.

In addition to being a “great design” for the front of the shop, Athari said the mural gives him a way to reconnect with his time in Turkey, and that he was very happy to be a part of the larger business community in Towson that’s embracing public art.

Riley said public art can generate interest in an area and economic activity, because it can attract visitors who want to see and talk about the murals. But in this case, he’s much more concerned with the positive message for the Mercier family.

“Public art can highlight really good causes, and communities can really join together,” Riley said.

Local artist Theresa Foggo has been commissioned to paint the mural. Foggo, who has lived in Lutherville for the past 20 years, said she expects the work to take 10 or 12 hours spread across two days. This work, she said, is “fairly small” and a lot of her past projects have been on full-sized walls.

The size of the mural doesn’t make it less special to her, though.

“I actually feel very honored to be part of it. I certainly feel for his family,” said Foggo, who has two young children herself. “When you can bring art for even better reasons than to just make things look nice, it’s even more meaningful.”

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