Juliet Ames had noticed that the yellow salt boxes that sit on some Baltimore City corners were looking even more weathered than usual last December. After all, they had been sitting outside for more than a year. The city Department of Transportation, which usually picks them up in mid-April, let them sit during the hectic early days of the pandemic.
They looked “extra naked and sad,” she said. She could no longer sit on her years-long desire to spiffy them up.
So despite her fears of getting in trouble for vandalism, Ames ventured to the corner of 36th St. and Roland Ave and drilled a yellow plywood panel with decorative letters made from blue and white porcelain spelling “SALT BOX” onto the front of the eponymous sodium chloride holder.
Ames snapped a photo and “put it out on Twitter, kind of jokingly like, oh my gosh, someone put graffiti on this box,’” she said. “Everyone knew it was me.”
A few hours later, the salt box art movement was officially born after DOT replied with an official verdict: “We love it! … I think this calls for a challenge competition.”
There are about 700 salt boxes throughout the city. Around 175 of them now have art panels, designed and installed by dozens of city residents. Ames herself has transformed around 35 boxes.
“I’m focusing on Baltimore, highlighting people and things that make Baltimore special,” she said. “They’re like my little love letters to the city.”
There’s the box in Mid-Town Belvedere that celebrates jazz legend Cab Calloway. There’s the Bolton Hill box that reads F. Salt Fitzgerald, for the famous author, who wrote Tender Is The Night while he was living in Baltimore. A box across the street from the Baltimore School for the Arts honors one of its most famous alumni, Tupac Shakur — or, as the box says, Salt Pac.