All posts tagged: Arabbers

Arabbers; A Dying Baltimore Tradition Brought to Life by Gaia

Street Artist Gaia regularly highlights people from whichever community that he’s painting or wheatpasting in. Passersby commonly stop to talk while he’s working, often adding layers of history, knowledge, opinion, and nuance to his piece while he works. With his newest wall in Sandtown, a neighborhood of Baltimore, Gaia draws attention to a dying local profession that is hanging on, but barely.

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Arabbers, pronounced locally with a long A (“A-rab”) were salespeople who had as many as 400 commercial carts offering fresh produce and other items rolling daily through the streets of Baltimore at one time, according to some accounts.  Horse-drawn carts were a normal part of the early 20th century street life and amazingly B-Town still supports a few of these small business people on the streets in the 21st.

Because of new zoning and bylaws enacted during a period of urban renewal, the city restricted where horse stables existed, and many were put out of business. But during our travels through Baltimore with photographer Martha Cooper, who grew up there, we have had occasion to meet a number of the people who still carry this trade forward, some for many generations. Their small fenced off plots of land and stables appear suddenly like an oasis of farm life from another era in the middle of otherwise urban blocks. Once able to provide a good living to a family, Arabbers still brings fresh food to under served communities at reasonable prices. Unfortunately the proud profession is now endangered by the economic pressures of rising fees, the costs of animal care, and stable upkeep.

One of the people featured in the new mural by Gaia, Great Grandpa Manboy. Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012. (photo © Gaia)

“The Arabbers are a dying Baltimore tradition,” says Gaia, “that have long been a staple of this remarkable city.” The NYC Street Artist, who has been living in Baltimore for a handful of years while attending university as an art student, feels a kinship to the families who are still enduring to keep this kind of livelihood sustainable. “These men and women define the word ‘hustle’,” he remarks, “trotting along both desolate and vibrant landscapes selling their goods and making ends meet. This mural depicts four generations; starting with the great grandfather Manboy in the middle and up to Fruit’s son on the top right.”

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

As the many expressions of Street Art freely bleed into all of art’s disciplines, many of Gaia’s more recent work clearly overlaps the traditions of community murals, where local residents are called out and celebrated, deified, congratulated, and mourned.  In this case, the tradition also extends to being a little bit educational as Gaia points to some of the contributing factors that endanger a profession here, “ The Arabber portraits are mixed with the logos on the containers in which their produce comes: a global economy meets a fading, tough tradition.”

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

Gaia “The Arabbers” Sandtown, Baltimore. 2012 (photo © Gaia)

A Pony in a Baltimore stable. 2011 (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A Pony in a Baltimore stable. 2011 (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Pigeons and Ponies mix well at a Baltimore Stable. 2011  (photo © Jaime Rojo)




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Seeing Baltimore With Martha Cooper

The Photographer Takes You On a Tour Through Sowebo

Walking in the street with Martha Cooper is part anthropology, part history, part celebrity, and always discovery. Known for 40 years of documenting with a clear eye the emergence of graffiti and hip hop culture and for introducing it to a world audience, Ms. Cooper will tell you that her primary interest has always been to simply observe closely and let the images speak for themselves.

brooklyn-street-art-rams-doke-soviet-arek-jaime-rojo-baltimore-05-11-web-28Mama Kat and White Mike welcome you to B-More. Mural by Rams, Doke, Soviet and Arik (photo © Jaime Rojo)

With a gentle frankness she repels your impulse to canonize her and her work and prefers to talk about the people she meets and her beloved hometown Baltimore, the site of her six-year photography project in the neighborhood of Sowebo. In much the same way her journalistic intuition led her to Brooklyn to meet graffiti king Dondi in the mid seventies, she has slowly earned the trust and friendship of many people in this neighborhood challenged by dire economics and the influence of drugs and guns.


White Mike talks to Martha about the mural and some neighborhood news. Mural by Rams, Doke, Soviet and Arik (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Tailing Martha, and that’s what you do in an effort to keep up with the photographer with yellow shoelaces, you soon hear young voices calling “Picture Lady!”, “It’s Picture Lady!”. Across the street, up the block, on the stoops, clusters of folk cooling themselves turn their collective heads to see Martha with her heaving backpack clipping up the sidewalk toward them. The littlest among them come right up and bob back and forth talking with animation to her and she answers each question and inquiry about her camera and what she’s been up to.


Man and his best friend in the shade at the Sowebo festival (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Setting the backpack on the pavement under a tree, she unzips compartments and produces printed photos of the neighbors that she made since the last time she came by. With thanks and some storytelling and maybe another pose for the camera, Ms. Cooper smoothly departs up the block, scanning all sides of the street for more photo opportunities. Here we stop for a tour of a garden, there we see an abandoned lot converted to a grassy lawn-chaired community barbeque, and finally we are upon a large graffiti wall installation. “Welcome to Baltimore!” it cries and within moments some passersby greet her to talk about the piece and pose in front of their names on the rollcall – a tribute to some of the folks in the community.


Napping on a landing at the Sowebo festival (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Your day includes a street fair with crafts and bands and crabcakes and lemonade that Martha thinks is too watery and skateboarders with tattoos and piercings doing a double take and figuring out how to approach this familiar lady with a giant camera and chat for a moment with her. Many times. Graciously. Finally a small crowd gathers as she shoots a new box truck being painted on this leafy street, with youth piled up on stoops and even sitting on the black pavement of the street for a front row seat while a skateboarder does tricks for just the right flick. It’s community. It’s creativity. It’s Cooper.


A little girl with her puppy pose for Martha (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Three lil’ sweet rascals hop like popcorn when they see the “Picture Lady” (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Action figure in a private garden (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Martha and her cousin Sally take us on a hike over the railroad tracks to a skatepark. One of the riders falls, and Sally digs through her purse to find a band-aid, which he’s too cool to accept. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


An unusual site that is normal for Sowebo; A stable with this beloved cart pony owned by an “Arab”, the old-custom name for local street vendors who sell produce from horse-drawn carts. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Tagged pigeons at the stables (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Street Artist Gaia in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Gaia in downtown Baltimore pays tribute to Martha Cooper by interpreting a photo of hers and pasting it on the street. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


…upon close inspection, Martha approves (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Gaia pays tribute to important people in the history of Baltimore’s downtown  with a retro version of work similar to that of French Street Artist JR. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Gaia in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Gaia in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Unknown artist in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Unknown artist in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Nanook in downtown Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Looks like AIKO was in Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


As soon as artist Adam Stab got the news that Martha was in town he procured a small truck to paint, and waited until she arrived to begin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


A little lift helps the reach. Adam Stab (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Adam Stab (photo © Jaime Rojo)


101 KSW in Baltimore (photo © Jaime Rojo)


The sky going back to NYC (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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