- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - Gerta Campen and Jessica Maldonado paint the green background to a portion of the Durham Civil Rights History Mural Project. Durham artist Franco designed this section of the mural, and the green area that Campen and Maldonado painted surrounds a raised fist at the bottom of the wall.

Campen, 96, and Maldonado, 16, are, respectively, a volunteer and a student with the Durham nonprofit organization LinkAbility, which links students to different types of community projects. When they finish this part of the mural, Janice Brahms-Butler, executive director of the organization, tells Maldonado, “You have left your mark now, here in Durham.”

Other students and volunteers climbed on the scaffolding recently to paint the mural, located on the back wall of the Durham Convention Center, facing Morris Street. Isaiah Jackson, 20, was painting a portion of the mural depicting Durham’s railroad tracks. Vivian Pastrana, 17, and Susana Marcial, 18, painted the roof on a drawing of St. Joseph’s Church gray.

The mural, the city’s first official public art project, is beginning to take shape. Brenda Miller Holmes, the visual artist who is directing and supervising the project, picked 30 people of different ages and backgrounds, who engaged in brainstorming sessions and drew blueprints of the mural.

The outlines of the mural have been visible for weeks, but with the paint, it resembles a collage. Those familiar with Durham’s history can make out St. Joseph’s and White Rock Baptist churches, the Carolina Times, and other landmarks. Other parts of the mural portray important moments in Durham’s civil rights history - the McKissick family’s integration of public schools, the relationship that Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis formed, and more.

LinkAbility has programs that build intergenerational connections, as well as a gardening and writing program. When she heard about the mural project, Brahms-Butler knew she wanted the students and volunteers to participate. “The minute I see anything that connects people, I will do it,” she said. Campen has volunteered with LinkAbility for about a year and a half. She paints still lifes and landscapes, and had her camera with her to help document the painting of the mural.

Jackson, a student at Durham Technical Community College, said he plans to major in computer science. His family moved from Queens, New York, about five years ago. He draws using pencil, and this is his first experience doing a mural. “Art runs in my family,” he said. His two sisters both draw, and his father, an electrician, can draw really well when he gets the chance, Jackson said. “So when Janice told me about” the mural, “I said, ‘Yes, I would love to do it.’”

Though not a visual artist, Maldonado said she liked being part of a project that has impact. It’s good knowing “you contributed to the making of something really beautiful, and it has meaning, and it will give pop to downtown,” she said.

At this session, Miller Holmes, in addition to supervising the volunteers, also mixes paint. Occasionally she looks into a box of files containing photographs of historic places and people depicted on the mural to get an idea of color shadings. She also refers to the drawings that contain the colors the designers chose for the mural. She tells volunteers not to try to mimic the exact colors on the drawings but to use them and the photographs as a guide.

The cast of “The Best of Enemies,” the play based on the Atwater-Ellis story (in production at Manbites Dog Theater in September) was scheduled to come help paint that part of the mural. Miller Holmes asked if someone could do a time-lapse video of the process, and a volunteer placed a camera atop the old Penny Furniture building, which takes photos every 15 minutes. “There’s been a lot of good participation . people helping out in all kinds of ways,” Miller Holmes said. “It’s just fantastic.”


Information from: The Herald-Sun, https://www.herald-sun.com

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