There was a time when I thought murals were just street art that made a city look more interesting. Houston's neighborhoods are dotted with them; Philadelphia's buildings are virtually an outdoor art gallery. In actuality, cities like New York, Nashville, Austin, Atlanta and my hometown of Marietta have become more vibrant because of beautiful murals displayed on their buildings. Now I know, street art doesn't only transform a city, increase tourism and display colorful pictures. It tells a story about the history, culture and people of a city. Entire neighborhoods across this country are alive with the visual stories of its people told through the creative storytelling of visual artists.
The Marietta Arts Council, in a quest to enrich the city's artistic and cultural landscape through public art, became the catalyst for a tradition of murals on the historic Marietta Square (the Square). The murals are exhibited as part of the annual Mountain to River Trailfest (Trailfest). Six new murals were added this year, in addition to the seven remaining from last year. It's exciting to live in a city where you get to see the world from the perspectives of so many creative and talented artists.
Colombian artist Angie Jerez uses everyday objects and random abstract shapes with inspiration from South America for her murals. Jerez moved to Atlanta seven years ago and fell in love with Atlanta's flourishing art scene. Her mural, Nature Is Watching You, tells the narrative of our neglect for the environment. We are ruining our lands and oceans with pollutants and plastic waste. Jerez's mural visually reminds us that at some point people will need to be accountable for the harm we are doing to our world. What I love about art is it can speak to social issues and ignite our passion for the world we live in.
In her mural, Interwoven, Atlanta, artist Leigh Ann Culver tells the story of the Civil War from women's point of view. Culver's story is inspired by the first African American nurse in the U.S. Army, Susie Baker King Taylor. Taylor was raised as an enslaved woman in the state of Georgia who secretly learned to read and write as a child. During the Civil War she escaped to freedom and organized a school for children and adults on St. Simon’s Island and then in Savannah. Of her illustration of Taylor, Culver says, “I tried to get a likeness in the portrait but I also wanted to keep the subject anonymous so that she can represent free women of color in general.”
Culver also tells the story of the approximately 400 Roswell Mill women who were working in dangerous cotton mills during the Civil War. When the North invaded Georgia, the women were arrested as traitors and taken prisoner, many of them never returned home.
Interwoven represents the hardships shared by both communities. Culver's subjects are portrayed as strong and confident women. She tries to depict every detail, flaw and emotion as she tells their stories through her art. The women are pulling on a loose thread from their dresses causing it to unravel into a pool of strings that flow from the bottom and spill out onto the surface of the arch. This is symbolism for an 'undoing' of the past, the string of time that connects us coming undone to then weave a new start.
For 6o years little dancers with dreams of one day dancing on Pointe have taken ballet classes at Georgia Dance Conservatory (GDC) on the Square. Marietta artist Lindsey O'Shields has three daughters and friend's children who have taken classes with Ms. Irene, Ms. Kathy, Ms. Ellen, Ms. Ashleigh or the other dance teachers at GDC. O'Shields took this passion and the dedication of the young dancers at Georgia Metropolitan Dance Theatre, the non-profit dance company, housed within GDC, as inspiration for her mural, En Pointe.
O'Shields has two other murals on the Square that were part of the inaugural M2R Trailfest installation. Her other murals take us back to the past as both have historical references to the city and show that the old times are not forgotten. Her Big Little Chickens, on the trailside wall of the Park West Vintage antique shop is a reference to the building's history as the local feed and seed store. The McPherson Tire mural, tells a personal story for O'Shield as it was once a family owned business. In fact, the mural was inspired from a mid-20th-century family photo.
Chicago based visual artists Max Komarov and Matthew Mederer collaborated on their mural, If You Don't Stop, You Won't Get Caught. They're stunning larger than life koi fish and vortex creates an optical illusion. Mederer says,"It is a reminder to stop when you've had enough or when you're finished." Komarov's passion for drawing and painting began in his hometown of Belarus and the education he received at Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago. Both artists paint in the style of surrealism and realism.
Also, staying for a second year is Christina Ward's Save the Giant Otters. Ward is an artist and animal conservationist with a background in animal care and wildlife rehabilitation. Ward's mural gives insight to the Amerindians, the vibrant people of the South American jungles of Guyana. The Amerindians live off the land and are caretakers to the rivers and animals who inhabit them. Especially at risk from outside mining operations are the endangered giant otters. Ward's mural draws attention to conservation efforts in this region. Ward's organization Colors4Conservation also helps to fund these efforts, educate and support the people.
Christina Kwan's mural, This Could Be, fuels my wanderlust and transports me to a tropical island. On her Instagram @Christina.kwan.art she compares her mural to Spring, "when all the pink magnolias bloom and the cherry blossoms rustle in the wind." Kwan paints images that moves the spirit using calligraphic strokes and fluid movement. Kwan is an Atlanta-based artist known for her abstract and floral works on paper.
Other murals that have been installed on the Square in the past two years include Marietta resident Donna Barnhart's boldly colored abstract,Tabula Rasa and Joy² by Lauren Pallotta Stumberg. Next to Barnhart's Tabula Rasa is Angela Faustina's Peach III which is vividly influenced by her South Florida upbringing.
Finally, there are two murals that tell the story of Marietta. From the KFC Big Chicken to the fountain in Glover Park, May-retta, Olga Sidilkovskaya and Leah Cochran's collaboration tell the city's story in colorful vignettes. Craig Stanley's brightly colored Marietta is one of the most visible and photographed murals on the Square. It is a reflection of a city that is proud to embrace the arts.
The Marietta Arts Council has helped to introduce the community to a powerful storytelling tool through visual arts. If you would like to apply as an artist for next year's Trailfest mural installations, contact the Arts Council @https://www.mariettaartscouncil.com. Trailfest is the second Saturday in the month of May. #mariettaartscene