Home Culture Culture UK ambassador inaugurates bright, bold mural trumpeting inclusivity

UK ambassador inaugurates bright, bold mural trumpeting inclusivity

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UK ambassador inaugurates bright, bold mural trumpeting inclusivity
U.K. Ambassador Dame Karen Pierce, 2nd from left, and artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, center, cut the ribbon to inaugurate the mural sponsored by the U.K. embassy and painted by Thalhammer on the Little Gay Pub in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 2024. Also in the picture are the three owners of the pub. (Courtesy Lisa Marie Studio)

The mural wrapped around two walls of the pub at 11th and P Streets in northwest D.C. shows a red British telephone booth and a color-burst of flowers.

“It’s received an unprecedented welcome by everyone, from the neighbors to the mayor’s office,” said Dito Sevilla, one of the owners of the Little Gay Pub near Logan Circle, where the mural with its bold, cheerful colors was painted. “We have guests of every stripe and they’ve been in awe of its beauty.”
Lisa Marie Thalhammer adds detail to the mural’s Union Jack. The mural carries a message of inclusivity and the benefits of diversity. (Courtesy Lisa Marie Studio)

Commissioned by the British Embassy in D.C., and painted by artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, the mural is part of the GREAT Love international campaign, which celebrates the United Kingdom’s – and the world’s – diverse and flourishing LGBTQ+ communities.

The artwork on the outside walls of the pub is intended to bring “a smile to everyone’s face and makes everyone feel at home,” the U.K. Ambassador to Washington, Dame Karen Pierce, said in a statement, a couple of weeks before the mural was formally inaugurated on Feb. 13.

Location, location

But there’s more to the mural than its power to elicit smiles. It’s also steeped in symbolism, and subtly conveys messages of inclusion, unity and the benefits of diversity.

The flowers, the phone booth, the choice of painting it on D.C.’s Little Gay Pub, the colors of the flowers, even the number of colors were all chosen for a reason, Thalhammer told the Washington Diplomat in a Zoom interview.

The Little Gay Pub is in a very walkable location near Logan Circle, and has a lot of passing traffic, making it easy for Washingtonians and visitors to the city to see the painting, she said.

There’s also  what gay pubs and bars represent in LGBTQ+ history.

“Traditionally, gay and lesbian bars were community centers” for the LGBTQ+ community, said Thalhammer. “That’s where LGBTQ people would go to meet each other, to form community.”

Symbolic imagery

The phone booth – or phone box, as the Brits call them – symbolizes “communication and the importance of proclaiming these positive cultural values and our respect for the beautiful diversity of our whole human family and our world,” the U.K. embassy said in a statement.

It also carries on the theme of  the Little Gay Pub’s interior, where a door has been painted to depict a British phone booth.

“When we were buying antique doors for the pub, we found a very beautiful slim door for a nook off the bar slated to serve as our office,” said Sevilla.

“It’s a teeny-tiny space and the idea emerged to paint it gloss red, which we did – and the phone booth was born. It, like our famous bathrooms, has become a popular selfie spot.”

Flowers were included in the design, initially because Ambassador Pierce is reportedly a big lover of blooms, Thalhammer said. But they, too, took on more meaning than that.

After chatting with embassy staff, 42-year-old Thalhammer, who was born and raised in St. Louis, Mo., and whose only experience in England so far has been a semester at Staffordshire University in 2002 when she was a junior in college, thought of painting the rose of England on the outside of the pub.

Then, to better convey the message of inclusivity and diversity, she also opted to include flowers that represent the other three countries of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“So we have the yellow daffodil for Wales, the green shamrock for Northern Ireland, the violet thistle for Scotland,” she said.

The end result is a cascade of multi-colored flowers and shamrocks pouring down one side of the telephone booth, symbolizing “the U.K. coming together as a cohesive unit that accepts diversity and the LGBTQ community and welcomes all different types of people,” said Thalhammer.

‘A big hug of color’

The mural was Thalhammer’s first embassy commission, but not her first outsized project in D.C. The LOVE mural, which consists of the letters L, O, V and E painted in rainbow colors on four garage doors around the back of 926 N Street NW, is by Thalhammer.

Lisa Marie Thalhammer painted the LOVE mural on garage doors in D.C. after Donald Trump took office in 2017. (Courtesy Lisa Marie Studio)

It was painted in August 2017, in the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency, and has become one of the U.S. capital’s most photographed walls, she said.

The mural at the Little Gay Pub, which is titled “GREAT Love is for Everyone,” is also likely to attract shutterbugs. The phone booth rises to the top of the building’s third story and wraps around one corner, giving the mural a three-dimensional aspect. The flowers are a welcome burst of color in sometimes dreary D.C.

Thalhammer used cold-weather spray paint to create the phone box and flowers over three weeks in January, working through snow and freezing temperatures one week, and unseasonably warm weather the next to get it done. She changed the tips on the cans to spray wide swathes of color or small, intricate lines.

Seven colors, seven chakras

Visitors to the site might notice seven colors of flowers falling down the outside of the phone booth. That, like many of the details in the mural, was a deliberate choice, Thalhammer said; the number of colors is the same as the number of major chakra energy centers in the body.

“I see my colors as the colors of the flag of humanity,” and public art as a way of bringing people together, Thalhammer said.

“The power of color, especially rainbow colors, in public spaces is very important because it represents a coming together and a recognition that our differences are beautiful and that they come together in a beautiful spectrum,” she said. “For me, conceptually, it highlights the beautiful diversity of our whole human family.”

She hopes the mural will boost the spirits of anyone affected by the turmoil, tumult and sadness in the world today, and that people who feel isolated and alone will  feel part of something bigger when they look at the mural.

“I want them to feel uplifted, even just for a moment,” Thalhammer said.

“I want them to feel embraced, empowered and supported by the energy of the color spectrum. I want them to feel a big hug of color.”

 

 

Karin Zeitvogel

Karin Zeitvogel started her journalism career at the BBC World Service and has worked since then for international media outlets and organizations including Agence France-Presse, U.N. agencies, Voice of America, RIA Novosti and the National Institutes of Health. She's lived in nine countries, speaks fluent French and German, good Spanish and a smattering of other languages.