Painted Sidewalks and a Mother’s Grief

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 2, 2009 — 1 Comment

The Times-Picayune brings us the story of a Wiccan mother, Susan “Willow” Schroeder, who responded to her son’s shooting death by painting her house, fence, and surrounding sidewalk with colorful designs and patterns.  Schroeder, who fought having her house demolished last year, is now dealing with an angry neighbor unhappy with the painted sidewalk, and a city that seems to be able to enforce sidewalk painting but unable to actually repair sidewalks in the neighborhood.

Susan “Willow” Schroeder and Karen “Feather” Espeut.

“Schroeder continued working out her misery through a sprawling memorial, covering her entire yard and every inch of her home, inside and out. Since the 2001 murder, most of her neighbors have watched the kaleidoscopic transformation with empathy for her inestimable loss. In a city that proudly embraces eccentrics, they say, the house fits right in. But one neighbor, JoAnn Taylor, didn’t share their tolerance. She called the encroaching sidewalk paint “harassment,” a frightful abomination. Soon, she enlisted City Hall in her quest to get the sidewalk returned to its usual gray.”

JoAnn Taylor and her husband call the house “spooky” and that it looks like a “witch’s house” (oh, the irony), and while Schroeder has erected a large fence to block their view of the house, they are still on a warpath to have all paint removed from public property. As for the city, a spokesperson said that Schroeder will soon be fined $100 a day until it is removed, and that the city, ultimately, may paint it over for her (at her expense). Meanwhile, her other neighbors seem to appreciate the mother’s artistic therapy writ large.

Most neighbors, however, seem to relate to the garden and the other paintings. “I like it,” said Roland Brown, who has lived his entire 20 years two houses away and knew Ayo. He sees images of himself and other longtime residents in the mural in the park. “It’s the whole neighborhood on there,” he said … Down the block, Larry Anderson talked about his fondness for Schroeder’s garden, where he said he sometimes goes to seek peace … Rose Gentry, 79, who lives directly across the street, said she likes to sit on her porch and look at Schroeder’s house. It reminds her of country houses, like the ones she grew up near in St. Francisville. Almost every day, she said, people stop outside and take photographs. She said she’s baffled that anyone would object …

This struggle brings to light the tensions between communal art, individual creative expression, and the laws designed to keep order and peace. While JoAnn Taylor and the city are clearly in their legal rights, the rest of the neighborhood seems to appreciate the art and Schroeder’s contributions to their community. One would hope that some sort of compromise could be reached that won’t incur fines and hard feelings all-around, but it appears to be too late for that.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Lynda G Key

    May Greater powers bless this woman. She has held true and keeps being pushed. I understand how it feels. I do.