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Baltimore’s Department of Transportation maintains hundreds of yellow wooden boxes with salt strategically placed throughout the city to let Baltimoreans treat sidewalks during snow and ice storms. A fixture of Baltimore neighborhoods since at least the late 1950s, most boxes have SALT BOX in black block letters of various font styles stenciled on them. Exposure to the elements and the corrosive nature of salt give the boxes a weathered patina. Some boxes stick around all year while others disappear in the Spring and reappear in the Fall; maybe in the same place, maybe not. 

An Instagram account dedicated to Baltimore’s saltboxes (@baltimore.saltbox) has been documenting them since 2017. In December 2020, local artist Juliet Ames (www.ibreakplates.com) took it upon herself to begin decorating saltboxes, starting with the aptly-named “China Box” that spells out SALT BOX with cut pieces of china. City officials gave their blessing to artists to decorate the saltboxes, and the Baltimore Saltbox Art Challenge began.

As of June 2021, over 200 saltbox art pieces have appeared throughout Baltimore. Themes include visual puns (the “Shoe Box” replaces the word with a shoe drawing) and mashups with iconic local brands (the “Old Bay Box” looks like a can of the spice that locals put on everything from popcorn to crabs). The “Salt Waters” and “Divine” boxes feature the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters, and his muse Divine, respectively. Saltbox art also memorizes local historical figures like jazz greats Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway, and writer Edgar Allen Poe. 

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