For three weeks this spring, 15 Furman students brushed up on their mural-painting skills for the May Experience class Art and Community Engagement. Under the direction of two local artists, students created two different murals—one on Stone Avenue and the other in Travelers Rest.
“We don’t have a lot of things in the art department that are externally focused,” explains Ross McClain, who chairs the department. “So the mural project is a great way to partner with, learn from, and celebrate local artists.”
Surprisingly, there were only four art majors in the class, which was open to students in any discipline. “That’s what’s awesome about it,” McClain exclaims. “This class is an easy way for a lot of different people to get involved with art.”
The mural in Travelers Rest adorns a wall in front of Farmhouse Tacos, facing Main Street. The design by artist Emily Clanton depicts a vibrant rural scene with bicycles, fields and flowers, and farm-fresh vegetables against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “The whole landscape is about the potential of TR,” says the artist.
Clanton first did a watercolor sketch of her design, and then drew it digitally. In transferring the art to the wall, she did a paint-by-number version to make the execution less intimidating. Students, working alongside Professor Ross McClain and Art Program Specialist Marta Lanier, filled in the areas on the wall using latex house paint. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group,” Clanton raves. “The energy has been great!”
That energy resounded in the TR community. “People stopped and thanked us for doing the mural while we were painting,” notes Emily Sandlin ’18, a health sciences major. Cyclists on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, women with babies in strollers, even members of the local police force stopped to compliment the students on their work. After experiencing the soothing nature of painting, Sandlin is considering a career in art therapy.
Back in Greenville, on Stone Avenue, the rest of the group painted a second mural outside the Hammack Law Firm. For this mural, Furman collaborated with the Stone Avenue Mural Project, which is affiliated with Stone Academy. Printmaker Sunny Mullarkey designed the tripartite black-and-white mural that illustrates the life cycle of the Eastern Swallowtail, the South Carolina State butterfly. The sentiment painted on the mural, “Every day is a new beginning,” echoes this year’s theme at Stone Academy.
Mullarkey, who was the 2016-2017 artist-in-residence for Stone Academy’s fifth grade classes, carved her design in blocks and then made a print of it. She used a grid system to chalk the scene on the wall. Furman students, with help one day from more than 100 fifth graders from Stone Academy, filled in each area. “It was an incredible experience,” reflects Mullarkey. “I’ve never worked on a project where I felt more appreciated.”
Whitney Maness ’20, a communication studies major, loved working with the fifth-graders, and seeing the finished mural. “I’m amazed how two weeks’ worth of work turned into something so cool,” she says. “I get to see it every day on my way home. The black and white really pops as you’re driving past.”
One big takeaway for the entire class was the appreciation for public art. “The students got a first-hand experience of what it means to be involved in public art,” states graphic designer Lib Ramos, an adjunct teacher at Furman who managed the Stone Avenue project. “And they got to see all the planning that goes into a project like this. It was neat to watch the students’ confidence grow and their camaraderie blossom along the way.”
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