Mural pays tribute to state’s literary life

Jan. 07, 2013 @ 09:47 AM

Artist Michael Brown has designed and painted many murals that are part of the local landscape. Among his pieces of public art are the mural at the old Chapel Hill Post Office, the image of the bull at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the nighttime cityscape mural at Manbites Dog Theatre.

His newest work-in-progress pays tribute to Maya Angelou, Allan Gurganus and other North Carolina writers. Visitors to Pittsboro can now see the names and titles of North Carolina writers in the bookshelf mural on the north side of Circle City Books & Music on Hillsboro Street in downtown Pittsboro.

Brown credits store owner Myles Friedman, who opened the used books and record store in October, and his wife Virginia with “coming up with a cool idea that looks cool.”

Brown did the design and some painting, but the Friedmans’ daughter Bailey Friedman and her friend Emily Kerscher have done a lot of the painting, Brown said. He describes his role as that of a coach. “I just coached them, loaned them a few tools and paint,” Brown said. “I pay them a visit every few days. I devised a program for them to succeed pretty much without me,” he said.

He also compares his role to that of a “jazz orchestra conductor,” and he praised Bailey Friedman’s and Kerscher’s ability to take his basic design and re-create it.

The mural is about 80 percent complete, Myles Friedman said, and when completed, the work will represent about 50 North Carolina writers. When he chose the titles, he tried to represent different eras, as well as fiction, poetry, history, criticism and other genres. One daunting task is the number of Tar Heel writers who deserve to be on the wall but cannot be included for practical reasons, he said.

“I went with books I was personally familiar with. … In fact, this mural reflects my [book] shelf,” Friedman said.

Writers whose titles and names have made the mural thus far are Jill McCorkle’s “The Cheer Leader,” poet Lou Lipsitz’s “Seeking the Hook,” poet Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s “The Conjure Woman,” Burke Davis’ “They Called Him Stonewall” and many more. Only one writer, William Faulkner, whose novel “Light in August” is included, is not from North Carolina.

While Friedman’s stock is by no means confined to North Carolina writers, the inside of the store also pays tribute to the state’s literary and artistic heritage. Different rooms are named for Paul Green, Doris Betts, John Hope Franklin and saxophonist John Coltrane.

Many readers’ shelves have books that are placed on top of other books, or at an angle – because of an odd size or, more likely, lack of room. Brown’s mural has several such books that sit atop other titles, including Allan Gurganus’ “The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All” and Creighton Lee Calhoun’s “Old Southern Apples.” Friedman called the Calhoun title “an amazing book.” It is a guide to some 1,800 apple varieties that originated in the South.

“Old Southern Apples” is one of the discoveries Friedman hopes the mural will help spawn. With the mural, Friedman said he is “hoping to introduce some good books to people that they might not have otherwise known about.”