Mural brightens downtown Wilson alleyway

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Darnell Thoms was leaving his job at the end of the day when he called out to a group of middle school students painting a mural in downtown Wilson.

“You all keep up the good work,” Thomas said. “It’s beautiful. To work here every day it’s good to have some brightness. This morning it kind of calmed my day at work, so that’s great. Anything that beautifies Wilson or gives a calming effect, I think it’s great, and for one just having some kids out here painting, I think it’s awesome.”

What was having that positive, enlightening effect on Thoms was a collaborative project between students from the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education and Wilson Downtown Development Corp.

The two entities spent last week creating heritage mural at 106 E. Barnes St., a project supported by a $1,500 grant from the Wilson Arts Council Grassroots grant program. The money went for materials and supplies and an artist stipend.

P.L. Woodward and Co. cleaned a 30-foot-wide wall surface owned by Womble Real Estate for the project.

Nayely Huerta-Andrade was one of the students who received compliments from the passersby.

“One thing that I learned is how to work more in a team,” Nayely said. “Sometimes when you work with people you don’t know, you become closer with them and then you can build up friendships and it makes it easier to work.”

Nayely is already a talented artist and she has spent some of her time helping bolster the talent of her classmates on the project.

“By showing other people my work and they can be inspired to do better,” Navely said. “We have all come closer as friends.”

Ja-hkeim Bowser, a seventh-grader, was perched on a ladder along with Bella Sinclair Van Dyk painting a tobacco leaf.

“In my section we are doing tobacco,” Ja-hkiem said. “At first we had to start over because our details in the tobacco leaf were not really correct. We had to paint it over and finally got it right on the third try.”

According to teacher Diana Ortiz, the seven students participating in the mural painting are in the visual arts major for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Sallie B. Howard School.

“Our students participated in a competition as part of the lesson,” Nobles said. “They worked together in teams to come up with a concept. The designs that they made were turned over to the city and they chose the one that they felt was the nicest. That’s how most public art competitions run.”

Nobles said the students have been practicing doing murals in the school this year.

“This year we decided to create a public art project, so all year long we have been learning about public art and these are the experts of those lessons that have been taught,” Nobles said. “Out of all of the people in the class, these are the ones who have mastered those skills.”

Wilson is known for tobacco and cotton among other things, so the mural features both crops prominently.

“It’s supposed to be a historic piece that incorporates the tobacco and the cotton, which was what helped found Wilson,” said Mikel Macaluso, who is working with the city on an internship. “This was funded through the arts council Grassroots grant.”

The city partnered with Sallie B. Howard to create the winning design, with a few alterations.

“It’s wonderful, especially the progression that the children have been able to accomplish in such a short time. I’m proud of them,” Macaluso said. “They have been really great to work with and hopefully we’ll be able to do a mural on the other side. The city’s projection is that we will hopefully they will be able to do it in the fall. They want to do a similar theme that will work with this.”

Macaluso said she hopes this will be the beginning of several more collaborations between the school and the city.

“Going from this drab gray to all these bright, beautiful colors has really improved this area,” Macaluso said.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818