By Caryn Coyle
On the 500 block of Oldham Street, just south of Eastern Avenue is a mural of Leini, a woman with “…hair, black as an olive, pale skin and an innocent neck.”
Painted by Minás Konsolas, the mural is his tribute to art, culture and women. “I probably know a lot of Leinis in my life. She is universal, actually. Leini doesn’t look Greek, she could be black, Hispanic, Jewish, Italian,” said Konsolas, a native of the village of Olympos on the Greek island of Karpathos. “She’s an older soul, someone with whom I identified.”
Leini Leftafkis is a fictional character created by Greektown resident Rafael Alvarez in his novel, “Orlo and Leini,” published in 2000 by Woodholme House. “There are a lot of cool things and honors that might come a writer’s way. But to have someone born in my imagination displayed with dignity on a wall in my own neighborhood – to have people walk by and wonder who she is, perhaps believe she lives nearby – is a thrill at the top of the list,” explained Alvarez.
Alvarez’s novel chronicles the Baltimore neighborhood where Leini’s mural is painted. Leini, a daughter of the Greek Isle of Samos, was sold for 14 sewing machines to an American couple who ran a working man’s lunchroom in Baltimore. From the 1920s, when she arrives in America, through the decades in which she meets and falls in love with a charming junkman, Orlo Pound, Leini is portrayed with compassion by Alvarez:
“Pin-rays of sunlight bear down through black glass and dance in the dark circles under Leini’s eyes, tiny beams of color crossing a face creased with despair.” The lovers never marry. Leini is forced into an early marriage to George Papageorgiou, who is described in the novel as an “itinerant seaman, petty thief, hopeless drunk.”
Though Leini is a fictional character, “sometimes fiction has a lot more truth to it,” said Konsolas, who sells copies of “Orlo and Leini” in his boutique, Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th Street in Hampden. A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Konsolas’s artwork has appeared in literary journals such as the Maryland Poetry Review and several exhibits at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Sowebo Arts Members Show, the Creative Alliance and others.
The mural was painted five years ago as a cooperative effort sponsored by the Baltimore City Mural Program. Konsolas added that he is “very connected to artists and writers. They are creative, insightful. We can learn from them.”
Konsolas worked with Xenos Kohilas, who painted the Greek scene in a window that is next to Leini on the brick wall. “It’s a conceptual scene, not an actual place,” explained Kohilas, a native of the Greek Isle of Ikaria, who owns Ikaros Restaurant on Eastern Avenue, around the corner from the mural. “I painted a window to Greece,” added Kohilas, who is also a photographer, chef and a musician.
In his portrait of Leini, Konsolas explained that he wanted to capture the connection all cultures have in common, “To me, the mural represents love. How men relate to women and women, to men. Love is where you find it.”
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.