From the time I began teaching high school in Cleveland in 1988, students would talk to me me about painting graffiti. I would listen to stories of their escapades; roaming the train tracks, climbing walls, and running from security guards. Occasionally I would hear about an arrest. Having grown up in the ex-urbs of greater Cleveland, I was intrigued with this renegade art culture of the inner-city.
I first learned about the wall on West 26th about eight or nine years ago when I was transferred to Max Hayes High School on Cleveland's near west side. My students would show me their sketch books; prized journals, filled with designs for what they called "throw-ups". They would practice the elaborate lettering and characters, working on developing a piece for the wall.
Jon Carlo Vega and Misriam Calderon graduated from Max Hayes in 2004. Best of friends, they were creative, top-notch students with excellent drawing skills. Called JC and Po-Po for short, these two honed their painting technique on West 26th and Swift, often competing with each other for the title of "Best".
So often, people like to lump all graffiti into the catagory of vandalism, or at best, art crime. These kids were never taggers, running around defacing property. In Cleveland they had a place to express themselves without having to cross that line.
Even now that they've gone on to college, they stay in touch with an occasional visit, phone call, or text message. JC sent me these pictures of some of his work on West 26th a couple years ago, and also some shots of a recent collaboration he worked on with Po-Po.