She’s a do-gooder for Tucson’s streets, a guerrilla artist who’s leaving her stamp of kindness wherever she goes. Who needs Santa Claus when you have Pollyanna Pavement? By Gillian Drummond.
“When you have grey hair, no one suspects you of anything” is her slogan. So this middle-aged woman takes to Tucson’s streets (usually at night) to perform deeds that are public art displays and acts of kindness. They are also illegal, making her one of Tucson’s most unlikely criminals.
At the derelict OK Market building on South 4th Avenue, she pasted enlarged photographs of eggs, pastries and groceries – a reminder of when there was a neighborhood greengrocer and bakery there.
‘Paul Bunyan’, the giant axe-wielding statue at a corner of Glenn and Stone, received a knitted scarf on one of the coldest nights of the year.
Twice, she has attached a mirror on a wall adjacent to the ATM at Bank of America on Stone Avenue (the first one stayed up for years, but the silvering started to go). It is placed so that customers can see themselves withdrawing (or depositing) money, and bears the words: “Generous… Thank you!”
Some of these ‘guerrilla’ acts go unnoticed, others do not. After she created a concrete bike ramp outside a Trader Joe’s store, some of the store staff actually took credit for it.
But no matter. The work makes her happy. She says this is her gift to a city she loves. Periodically, she records her adventures on her blog, the aptly named Pollyanna Pavement.
We can’t confirm she has grey hair. When she agreed to be interviewed by 3 Story Magazine, ‘Pollyanna’ (not her real name) turned up dressed head to foot in black, a burqa covering her head and most of her face. So we only know this: she has blue eyes, small wire-rimmed spectacles, and sneakers that are grey with purple trim and laces. And that she is probably married (she was wearing a wedding ring).
She was careful not to let anything slip that would identify her; nothing about where she comes from, and only slivers of information about how she came to Tucson and what her profession has been. For the record, she came here almost 30 years ago, “because I knew I loved the desert”. She has worked different jobs, including driving a truck and in a biology-related job. Now she “works with buildings”.
Ironically, the donning of the burqa had the opposite effect when we met; people noticed her. But they didn’t see her face, so that was OK. Plus, it meant she got to stare at people without them knowing it. “It’s a cloak of invisibility.”
She says her age adds to her invisibility, especially doing deeds like this. The police are more likely to suspect young males, she says, not the likes of her. “I think people talk about how as you get older as a woman it’s so terrible because you become invisible. But that is something of an asset,” she says.
‘Pollyanna’ has been watching, sometimes staring, cooking up public art statements and doing our Tucson pavements favors for more than a decade now. Her first deed was to erect a signpost at a construction spot twelve years ago. The work at a downtown corner was going to take its toll on traffic. Pollyanna’s sign read simply ‘Patience’.
But you could say the role of Pollyanna Pavement has always been waiting to emerge. When she was eight or nine, she and a group of girlfriends formed The Bravery Club, daring themselves to perform an act of bravery, and of generosity. It was ironic, she says; parents thought their kids were up to no good, but this group was doing its own version of the game Ding Dong Dash. They would leave a freshly picked bouquet of flowers for the inhabitant, ring the doorbell, then wait and watch in some bushes. Their targets were usually the mean folks, the crotchety old ladies and men who seemed the most undeserving of a good deed.
“I feel like a child on an adventure,” she says of the dashes she does now. “I get the same butterflies in the stomach I got then, and the satisfaction of standing back and looking at it is the same rush I got from watching Mrs. May from behind the bushes finding flowers on her doorstep.”
Pollyanna’s community acts are no rash nor fly-by hits. Her encyclopedic wheat-pasting project was six years in the making. When she picked up a set of encyclopedias set out by someone for a City Brush and Bulky collection, she kept them for a long time (and read them often), wondering what to do with them. When she finally decided to paste pages in locations around the city, she selected them carefully.
A map of Africa went up on a wall outside City High School (below), a place that prides itself on diversity and community. The Bronte Sisters were pasted next to pictures of The Brat Pack – because how interesting would that date have been? Ella Fitzgerald appeared next to diagrams of the ear and the lungs.
Recently, she took to Tucson’s historic Armory Park district for a similar ‘hit’, wheatpasting pages from the Common Sense Dictionary of 1904 onto streetlight poles. These were words the residents of Armory Park would have been looking up when the houses in the neighborhood were still new, she says.
Pollyanna usually recruits a friend to help her with her hits, but all of them are sworn to secrecy. Her anonymity is precious, so much so that she even went quiet on us after the interview. We haven’t heard from her since.
When a friend nominated her for a Lumie arts award earlier this year, she went to the awards ceremony – but turned up incognito. (She didn’t win.)
Pollyanna is a lover of cities. She travels extensively. “When I go to cities I don’t ever to go museums because in the limited time I have in any city I would rather be out looking around, looking at what the city itself is like. It’s so much more interesting to me than [what’s] curated in a museum.
She calls her projects “tiny reminders of human occupation” and says: “Why not put these tiny reminders here in our city?
“I’m a lover of details and a relentless observer and that’s one of the great pleasures of my life. ”