Project Description

James “Big Man” Maxton

A community leader, artist, and master chess player, “Big Man” built bridges between The Village and the neighborhood, and shared his genius for connection with generations of Village youth. 

Born in Thomasville, North Carolina, in 1947, Big Man stood 6-foot-8 and and was an all-state football lineman. A leg injury ended his athletic dreams, and at 18 he moved to Philadelphia in search of a future. He found the underground economy instead, becoming addicted to drugs himself.
Still in active addiction in 1988, he became friends with Joseph “Jo Jo” Williams, a neighborhood craftsman working with Lily Yeh. JoJo invited Big to work with Lily, and he fell in love with the craft of mosaics. Over the years, Big Man blossomed into an energizing organizer of community renovation efforts and a skilled mosaic artist, craftsman and teacher. He served as operations manager of The Village in addition to his artistic role.
“I have watched as so many different races and nationalities of people have come to this once hell-hole and speak about its beauty…I’ve seen the light in the eyes of planners and developers from other urban areas who hope to export a piece of this particular concept to their community. It has given me a great sense of pride to read in the newspaper and see on TV people talking about my community in relation to beauty and hope rather than drugs and death. To see the little kids run and play happily at The Village through a maze of colored sculpture-filled gardens as though they were in another place and time…”
Big Man died on Feb 1, 2005 in his home on North Alder Street. His spirit lives on in the laughter of the children who still run through the Village parks.