Wall Stories

BY Lia Kerner

For many art is a creative history a record of the artist’s vision a vehicle by which that vision can be presented to the public. But the murals we see all around us do more than bring art to the public square; they breathe life into the stories of the people and the culture of a city. They tell stories: wall stories.

Tracy Weaver

Blair Elementary School Mural

Tracy Weaver does not define himself as an artist but rather as a storyteller. “When it comes to my art I have to tell a story ” he says. “I have to tell at least one joke.” Weaver a Wilmington resident for 20 years was selected to paint a mural for Blair Elementary School by DREAMS of Wilmington a nonprofit organization committed to building self-confidence and character in kids through the arts. The project a 10-week after-school program incorporated 10 at-risk Blair Elementary students all of whom are featured in the mural. “DREAMS gives these kids a fabulous art education which is so important with art and music leaving the schools ” says Weaver.

After coming up with the mural’s general concept Weaver assisted by his wife Cynthia taught the students how to tape and paint and asked them to draw their favorite activities. “That was how we learned who those kids were ” says Weaver. “We used their artwork as the artwork they’re painting in the mural.” When the 10 weeks were up Weaver used the span of the summer of 2005 to paint the children attempting to capture each individual’s personality.

The Blair Elementary mural like many of Weaver’s pieces was painted on a panel then mounted to the wall. Using panels allows even huge wall-sized murals to become portable — mobile art — and grants Weaver a sense of flexibility that he enjoys.

In his storytelling and in his artwork Weaver finds inspiration in small quiet moments that no one else sees. He strives to paint the things you missed to show you a side of the everyday world you’ve never seen and perhaps to take you somewhere new. “We don’t break out of our own boxes ” says Weaver. “Someone must come along and say ‘Hey it’s a small box you’ve got there.’”

Emily Jones

Wave Room Mural

Playing the role of the up-and-coming artist Emily Jones her recent UNCW studio art degree in hand is perfectly content with her current pace and direction.

Early in the summer of 2007 Jones was approached by a neighbor and friend Chad Nicoll to paint a wave room in his Wilmington home. She began by researching hundreds of wave photographs and studying the shape and movement of the water. “He wanted a pipe wave that was dark and encompassing ” says Jones “so I bought an infinite number of blues as well as some black red gray and green and mixed the colors as I went along.”

Jones began painting in August of 2007 and is almost done. “It’s been a very relaxed project ” she says. “We’re both busy so I have definitely taken my time.” On the far end of the wall a sliver of beach can be spotted that stretches across the left side of the room. The wave which rises from the floor as a dark-blue almost-black mass reaches up and over the ceiling and crashes onto the opposite wall in a jagged stream of white across a clear blue sky.

Her art continues to grow as she challenges herself to paint on a larger scale to let go of her grip on realism. “I am free to be me in my art ” says Jones. The mural represents a change within her as well. “This wave has had such a calming effect on me; it’s given me a sense of peace. I feel like if I take it slow do it right I’ll get the end result I want.”

Gayle Tustin

Tile Mural at Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Lifecare Center

Gayle Tustin’s flair for putting things together pervades her personal style as well as her art. A native of Pennsylvania Tustin has lived and worked in Wilmington for 20 years. As the artist of the Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Lifecare Center’s tile mural Tustin is grateful for the project that fell into her lap. “It’s such a healing thing for people ” says Tustin speaking of the Center. “Just to have some place to go to remember lost loved ones.”

The mural entitled “Celebration of Life ” contains a total of 1 626 tiles each bearing a name in memory and honor of loved ones. The title selected before Tustin began working on the project inspired the motion and direction of her work. “This mural is very representational ” she says. “There’s some plant life some figurative art. I was thinking a lot about bright and colorful confetti and hats.” The designers of the mural insisted on the use of primary and secondary colors because they are known to facilitate healing.

The first installment which contains 1 176 tiles took nine years to complete. Tustin began installing twice a year in 1997 and finished in 2006 occasionally putting up 40 tiles at a time at other times nearly 140. The second installment of 450 tiles took two and a half years. Tustin who finds inspiration in her travels and in being sensitive to the needs of others has always enjoyed making collages pairing odd items into captivating combinations. With another tile mural in the works for a Hospice Center in Winston-Salem North Carolina Tustin constantly strives for spontaneity of interpretation and the freedom to be fresh. “I’m not a realist ” says Tustin. “I’m not interested in trying to duplicate something. My work is more of an interpretation of where I am that day in my life.”

Cynthia O’Neal

Mural at Julia’s Florist

Cynthia O’Neal believes that art has the power to make people happy. With a degree in art history from UNCW O’Neal studied art in Los Angeles as well as in Vienna Austria. She has completed 23 public murals — the first one located at the Wilmington Airport the most recent at Salt Works II.

Bringing art to the public plays into her ultimate theory about art that it should be something everyone can enjoy and should make the world a more beautiful place. “Early on I realized that if I can make people happy with my art then that’s what I’m supposed to be doing ” says O’Neal.

Though she doesn’t have favorites among her murals Julia’s Florist and Cardinal Lanes North bowling alley are two that stick out because of what they bring to their surrounding environments. The mural at Julia’s Florist opens up an outside commercial space by transforming it into a lush colorful garden while Cardinal Lanes gives bowlers a 360-degree view of the beach.

O’Neal worked on the 4-year-old mural at Julia’s Florist on and off for several months. With the help of her father (a year and a half ago) O’Neal completed the Cardinal Lanes mural in just eight days. Identifying her work as consistently bright and cheerful O’Neal hopes her art brings great energy and positive vibes to all who view it. “My ultimate goal is to share as much of my art as possible so I have the chance to make everyone I reach happy to make their lives better.”