marilyn zwak and our shared environment – a public art project

Our Shared Environment Marilyn Zwak 3 frogs copy

Our Shared Environment by Artist Marilyn Zwak, 1990

I’m not sure what the temperature was yesterday. I’ll guess – warm 90’s. Driving back from jurying an art show in Tempe,  we exit the 51 at Thomas, in Phoenix and Carolyn [Lavender] points out a woman on scaffolding.

C: Look! there’s Marilyn Zwak. She’s a self-taught artist who is restoring a public art work she did 20 years ago.

M: Wouldn’t that be a fun photo of an artist. You should have told me sooner, or slowed down or something.

C: Do you want to meet her?

We’re on the exit ramp – in rush hour traffic.


M: Yeah, Why not.

We park nearby and hike back to the highway exit.  I think we’re crazy to be walking the very busy intersection of the Thomas Street overpass.


Quick introductions occur while I stare up scaffolding and see a thin, energetic woman, with thick, silver bangs over animated eyes. I decide she’s dressed to match the sky. The only thing that stands out is the black head band across her forehead and her orange safety vest. She smiles as she recognizes Carolyn.  Marilyn introduces us to her assistant -Tom Green. They seem to be resurfacing areas in the adobe of the wall carvings. She’s high up on the retaining wall of the 51. It’s noisy. I note her colorful prayer flags.

IMG_4225 IMG_4226


We don’t stay long and as we walk back to the car Carolyn fills me in on some history about the area, the project, and the artist. This is the Loma Linda neighborhood – it’s Carolyn’s neighborhood.

At the time the work began ( 20 plus years ago ) many people opposed the parkway and the freeway. People felt violated by the highway, which cut the neighborhood in half. There was an effort by the city to support community who felt something taken from them. Marilyn Zwak she notes, was/is very interested in the idea of healing, and entered the project and the space with focus on the future and awareness of the past. The site was to become a  Hohokam memorial.Marilyn Zwak dog Marilyn Zwak frog column 2013 copy copy

Carolyn and I walk the underpass. The walls include obvious community involvement – they’re filled with personal objects, including shells, 45 records, metals, shards, rocks – and there are many narratives expressed through carving and text. The images below are from the South wall of the underpass. You can see the restoration in progress.


the underpass – shells embedded into the adobe


Mark Your Own Tracks


Vaya Con Dios




45 records embedded into adobe


carvings, narratives (closer view below)





Carolyn emphasizes several times that Marilyn is a self-taught artist. I like her eyes and the way she moves her hands and I appreciate her vision. I’m glad she allows me to photograph her. I decide It was so worth the walk through rush hour traffic, at a busy highway exit, in the Phoenix heat – to meet artist Marilyn Zwak.


Last month Marily Zwak was a guest speaker for the Loma Linda Neighborhood Association. To read Carolyn’s flyer that includes a brief history of the project, Marilyn Zwak and the neighborhood → click here.

… art and artists, there’s never a dull moment …

6 thoughts on “marilyn zwak and our shared environment – a public art project

  1. Coincidental back story to this….

    Yesterday morning, I was at Echo Coffee when I ran into Scottsdale Public Art administrator Jana Weldon and visiting public artist Judy Bales. We spent time talking about various public art projects but spent quite a bit of time discussing Marilyn Zwak and her overpass project for the 51 and Thomas. Just a few hours later, you, Carolyn Lavender, and I were judging the art show together. You and Carolyn left that and encountered Marilyn repairing her 23+year old project.


  2. Hey there Aunt Marilyn! As always proud of you for keeping up in public arts. I will do the same.


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