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Mural installed for The Genesis Collective's project "Tomorrow: Aliquippa"

Andrew Stepke
June 15, 2024
While cars fly by Aliquippa on Route 51, they may not know what lies beneath the highway, or who made it. Under the overpass is the home of Guy Ruff III's newest mural — a gigantic art installation celebrating the community of Aliquippa.
The painting features four children standing in heroic poses, wearing long capes that blow in the wind. The children stand tall in black and red — the Aliquippa colors — greeting newcomers and familiars alike as they pass through.
The mural is part of "The Tomorrow Project," a three-community pilot program of The Genesis Collective (TGC) that creates public art throughout the county.
The project features community listening sessions, where residents are asked what they want in their town in 10 or 20 years.
Artists with a connection to that community are asked to submit their work based on resident responses from those listening sessions. A panel of judges chooses the artist, and TGC works alongside community partners to get a specific location for the public art installment.
The Beaver Falls installment will be completed this summer, and the third will take place in Ambridge next year.
Ruff was the artist chosen for the Aliquippa installment. And it certainly wasn't his first mural. In fact, he said he has always been a muralist and a painter. His first mural was painted in a creative place — his bedroom.
“I drew [a mural of a] tiger on my bedroom wall when I was in eighth grade,” said Ruff, who was born in California, but lived his teenage years in Beaver Falls. 
Tomorrow Project Aliquippa Mural Installation with Guy Ruff III-8.jpg
While in high school, he was voted most artistic in his class and would often draw artwork on his desk. After high school, Ruff began working for the railroad company Norfolk Southern where he stayed on for 18 years. During this period of his life, he said he wasn’t able to follow his dream due to the demands of the job, and in 2018, he left the company after his long tenure to begin just that. 
“You just got to go for it,” Ruff said of his vocational shift. “There’s no other way of learning to do something besides going for it.” 
His first full mural was an emblem design for the city of Carrick. Another time, he was asked to create some artwork for the Beaver County Courthouse waiting room. He ended up sketching out a picture of his daughter in a heroic pose and cape that now hangs there. This was the inspiration for the mural now decorating the underneath of the Route 51 overpass.
The mural is painted in a clear acrylic paint on top of a very thin paper so any cracks in the aging concrete will be covered. Ruff’s original plan was to use flour glue as paint, but that process was not deemed to be long-lasting. 
The specific location of the mural is intentional. Not only is it a busy part of town so that passersby can see it as they drive by, but it is strategically placed so that the sun will rise and illuminate the faces of the children. 
There was a three-part process before getting it on the wall. It started with photography; kids from the Aliquippa Impact program were the models. During the photography sessions, Guy asked them to think of their favorite superhero and to strike “a very powerful, strong pose.” Next, he made pencil drawings of the photographs before finally starting the painting process on the wall. 
“I hope the kids see it every day [and are inspired],” Ruff said. “It’s for the kids of Aliquippa.”