For Baltimore residents, the appearance of yellow salt boxes on the streets means one thing: winter is around the corner.
For those unfamiliar with these boxes, the Department of Public Works puts them out every year in the fall and then fills them with salt that residents can use to melt the ice on driveways and sidewalks.
But in spring, they collect the boxes as they wait for the next winter season to put them back.
In 2020, however, the boxes were left out all summer due to COVID-19, and their yellow and black paint had begun to fade.
And one artist decided to get creative and repainted these boxes.
Juliet Ames, a local jewelry maker, spends most of her days breaking dishes, vases, wedding china, and more and turning the shards into art pieces and custom jewelry.
When she saw a salt box on Roland Avenue and 36th Street looking sad and dingy, she decided to use her skills to spice it up.
“It looked sad. I had to do something. I had to fix it.”
“A naked salt box needs a dress.”
One morning, Juliet went and installed a plywood panel, painted in the same OSHA-approved color, on the box.
Instead of using black spray paint to spell out ‘salt box,’ she painted large pieces of blue and white china.
Juliet, however, was unsure how the city would react to her addition to the salt box.
Luckily, the City’s Department of Transportation, responsible for maintaining and filling the salt boxes, approved her modification.
“I was really afraid to put the first box up because I’m a rule-follower.”
“I was nervous—I’m generally a rule follower, I didn’t want to piss anybody off.”
“But when the Department of Transportation responded to me [on Twitter], they said they loved it and encouraged more artists to make boxes. It was the greatest outcome I could ever think of.”
Since then, Juliet has decorated more than 25 salt boxes. She has also inspired a movement of other Baltimore artists to do the same.
Now, there are more than 100 decorated salt boxes throughout the city.
Artists have also repainted the boxes, celebrating iconic Baltimore figures, including filmmaker John Waters, the Natty Boh logo, and the googly-eyed Mr. Trash Wheel.
Here are some of the salt boxes that are making city residents smile.
Literary icon Edgar Allan Poe stares out moodily from the front of a salt box across the street. And yes, that’s a raven perched atop his head — a nod to the Bard of Baltimore’s most famous poem and its cryptically croaking bird.
“I was trying to subtly work in a reference to ‘nevermore,’ because there is never more salt. A lot of the boxes have been empty this year.”
Juliet said of the umbrella-holding girl, inexplicably trailing a shower of salt in her wake:
“I love the Morton Salt Girl.”
The Morton Salt Girl, who first appeared in company advertisements in 1914 and is still going strong more than 100 years later, seemed a natural fit for one of Juliet’s salt boxes.
“I have a tattoo of the Morton Salt Girl on my leg that I got five or six years ago.”
“I like her imagery, I love to cook, and we always had canisters of Morton salt when I was growing up.”
The artist stenciled white flowers beneath the graceful letters ‘Salt Box’ as a tribute to patterns found on old Pyrex casserole dishes. This is a design she frequently incorporates into her own artwork.
“I make a lot of jewelry out of recycled Pyrex.”
“The old dishes from the 1950s and ’60s, in particular, have really cool patterns.”
The Cab Calloway salt box features the jazz legend looking over his shoulder and warbling a version of his trademark hi-de-ho.
Juliet said of the artist:
“I first learned about Cab Calloway from a Janet Jackson video in the 1990s. My mom was so excited.”
“She told me, ‘Oh, he’s from Baltimore!’ Even though Cab technically wasn’t technically born here, we like to claim him.”
This box features the Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, also known as Salt Bae.
The chef became an internet sensation back in 2017 for his habit of sprinkling salt from his fingertips onto his lower arm and letting the crystals fall onto a dish.
“He’s just so dramatic in how he seasons his food.”
“In this box, I think of him as sprinkling a little love onto Baltimore.”
This salt box depicts F. Salt Fitzgerald, who wrote his 1934 novel, Tender Is the Night while he was living in Baltimore.
This salt box is painted to resemble local favorite Old Bay seasoning. It may make passersby yearn for summertime feasts of crabs drenched in the signature spice mix.
Juliet said about the salt box:
“That’s the only salt box where I painted the actual lid instead of decorating a yellow plywood panel that attaches to the front of the box.”
“I was painting the lid bright red while people were passing by, and no one questioned what I was doing.”
This salt box is adjacent to the Baltimore School for the Arts and it features one of its most famous alumni, Salt Pac Shakur.
Shakur studied acting at the school in the 1980s, where, according to his former teachers, the soon-to-be-renowned rapper had a special gift for performing Shakespeare.
The first salt box Juliet painted.
“Five years ago, I worked on a project where I made alphabet letters out of pieces of broken china, and I thought I could do that for this salt box.”
“I didn’t want to vandalize city property. So, instead of putting the china letters on the box, I cut out a plywood panel. I painted it yellow, attached the letters and propped the panel against the front of the box.”
A stylized S stands for the all-female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa.
The artist said:
“When I started designing the boxes, I was looking for salt themes.”
“When I was 13, I loved Salt-N-Pepa. I’d sing along to their songs while I was roller-skating.”
The salt box depicts the Cone sisters and is located near the Marlborough apartments. The art collectors Claribel and Etta Cone lived in the early 20th century and displayed their fabulous art collections.
The sisters later donated their artworks to the Baltimore Museum of Art, including hundreds of paintings and drawings created by the 19th-century French master Henri Matisse.
Juliet painted this pink flamingo to amuse the residents of the Hampden neighborhood, where her studio is located.
Flamingos are a thing in Hampden. For instance, one pink bird, known as ‘the traveling flamingo,’ mysteriously moves from yard to yard in the night as an ‘under cover of darkness.’
“A lot of people walk around and post pictures of every flamingo they come across in Hampden.”