Mural is almost ready for paint

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 06:38 PM

Muralist and visual artist Fausto Capellan Ramirez uses a measuring tool to check out the proportions of the drawings that will become the Durham Civil Rights History Mural Project. This section of the 2,400-square-foot mural contains drawings of hands that soon will have the names of people who were part of the city’s civil rights history. Ramirez compares this part of the process to “a conversation between the wall and you.”

Ramirez was among the trained visual artists who were working Monday on perfecting and cleaning up the drawing that the public will be allowed to paint on the wall next to the Durham Arts Council Building on Morris Street. Passers-by can see scaffolding and drawings from a distance. A closer look reveals faces of local leaders in the struggle, and scenes from the protest to integrate the Carolina Theatre and other important episodes in this history.

This part of the process requires trained artists to get the proportions right, said Brenda Miller Holmes, who is leading the project. Once the drawing is completed, the public will be allowed to help paint the mural. A letter and number grid system visible on the wall will help participants know which colors to paint.

The mural is Durham’s first public art project, funded initially with $20,000 from the city’s Cultural Master Plan. The project was originally scheduled for 2013 but was delayed after the original site was sold. The new site is three times the size of the original wall, and in June organizers raised $10,000 for more materials using the Indiegogo site. Since early 2013, Holmes and other participants from the community have had brainstorming sessions and created the mural designs. Since then, the project has “adopted all these incredible artists,” Miller Holmes said.

Ramirez, from the Dominican Republic, came to Durham in 2011 to teach mural skills to students at three local schools – Rogers-Herr Middle School, Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College High School and Durham School of the Arts. A painter, sculptor and muralist, his murals can be seen in Santo Domingo, Cotui and other cities in the Dominican Republic as well as Durham. He came to this project after seeing information on the Internet. “I was so excited” and decided to participate, he said.

DeMarcus Boone has been with the project since its beginning. “There is so much history,” he said. “It’s hard to believe so many things happened in Durham.” Boone, now a student at N.C. A&T University, participated in his first mural in 2010 while a student at Hillside High School. He did an internship at the Parrish Street nonprofit NCIMED, where he was assigned to do a project on the history of Durham. He did research on the Black Wall Street era.

That project never came to fruition, but it sparked Boone’s interest in local history. When his art teacher told him about the civil rights mural, he thought it offered a chance to apply some of his research. “Just like destiny,” Boone said.

Boone and other artists work from a blueprint to draw the figures on the wall. One challenge with a large mural like this is making sure the proportions from the scale drawing translate to the wall, Boone said. One has to step back to make sure the perspective is right, he said.

Joanne Andrews, who teaches art at Rogers-Herr Middle School, has been with the project since its beginnings. She has worked on murals before, but “nothing on this scale,” a process that she said has been fun. “This part is a little nerve-wracking,” she said of cleaning up the drawings. “You want these [faces] to look like the people, and that’s a little hit and miss,” Andrews said. She was working on part of the mural that depicts R.N. Harris, E.J. Evans, Chester Jenkins and other historical figures.

Holmes originally assembled 30 people, ages 15 to 65, of varied backgrounds, to brainstorm, discuss and design the mural.  Including a portrait of everyone who contributed to Durham’s civil rights history was just not possible, Miller Holmes said. Those who contributed but did not get a portrait will have their names included in the mural, she said.

Some portraits do not represent specific individuals, but represent people who nonetheless were important in the struggle for equality. “Too often we honor leaders but we don’t acknowledge people who were out there risking their lives,” and this mural seeks to honor those people, Holmes said.