Story by Norwood Walker

That one lonely mural on the Reams Avenue side of the outside brick wall of the Kirby in downtown Roxboro is about to find a new home.  As part of the Outdoor Art Project of Roxboro, 4 new murals are being prepared to hang on the brick façade of the Kirby facing Reams Avenue.  The Public Arts Committee has been working on bringing outdoor art to the citizens of the Roxboro and Person County since its formation in 2014.  Public art is a concept that has grown throughout our state and one only has to travel a bit south down 501 to Durham to see the how outdoor sculpture, murals, and other pieces add a vibrancy and lift to the Durham landscape.  Piedmont Community College has two examples of this type of art and may have served as an impetus to bring more to the city and county.  There is a mural depicting life in Person County created by visiting artists during one of the Step Into the Arts events of the past.  There is also a twig sculpture horse welcoming everyone to the campus.

With the recent opening of the whirligig park in Wilson, the interest in Public Art is sure to continue and spread.  Roxboro already has a couple of murals and its own stick sculpture horse and colt.  The new murals will be directly across the street from this sculpture will create a focal point for our area.  Also in this area on the outside wall of the Tourism Development Authority office hangs one of the quilt squares that is part of the Quilt Trail in Person County.  These colorful squares on the sides of barns and other buildings throughout the county attract visitors who seek out the many such trails in the state.  These new murals will add yet another attraction and help make our area more of a destination for art lovers and others.

The call for mural artists was sent out late in 2016 with a deadline of January 31, 2017, for submissions.  Funding for this project was made possible by the Person County Tourism Development Authority, the Person Arts Council, the City Council, and the County government.  The call emphasized key words that the Commission was looking for in the creation of the murals.  Such things as nature, history, community, friendship, original, harmony and diversity were listed.  The murals design was sought to be “uplifting and vibrant and appropriate for all ages.”  The artists were asked to provide with their applications a narrative, their resumes, images, and references.  The narrative was to include a statement of the intention or the need for the artwork and a schedule for the project.  The resumes would allow the Commission to have evidence of the artists’ ability to design, plan, and carry out such a project.  As well as, their range of experience and professional commitment.  The images were to be of their past work as well a rough sketch of their design for the mural.

In February 2017, applications were reviewed, and three artists were chosen with one of the three being chosen to complete two murals.  One of artists is a native of Person County, the second has chosen to make Person County her home, and the third currently lives in Orange County after spending 15 years going to school and working in Indonesia.

Chrystal Hardt was born and raised in Person County and has spent most of life here.  She is very familiar and versed in the people and places of Person County.  She has taken part in many solo and juried art shows dating back to the early 90s.  She has worked as an art instructor on the community college level as well as offering her services to summer arts programs in the area.  Her work has been exhibited all throughout North Carolina and Virginia.  Her degree is in Psychology and Recreation Administration, but her heart and soul have always been with art.  She says “My paintings are about energy and emotion and movement.  They have many inspirations. Most are figurative in nature showing our interconnectedness to all things.”  She continues by saying “I strive to have my paintings work on an abstract level by focusing on color relationships, interesting shapes, good contrast between light and dark, and a balance between emotion and mystery.”  She paints from nature, figures, and abstract designs.  There is always great energy and flow in regard to her work.  She created the smaller mural that has been hanging outside of the Kirby where the new murals are to go.  This mural will be relocated to another location where it can better be appreciated.  Chrystal is very active in the Art Guild of Person County and is co-founder/owner of the Milton Art Gallery.  Her works hang in private collections throughout North Carolina and Virginia, as well as schools in the county, the Arts and Parks Department, and the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex.  She also painted several of the squares which are a part of the Quilt Trail in the county.

Chrystal’s choice for her mural in very reflective of her art.  Full of movement with the dancing figures and alive with vibrant colors, she captures the joy that can be found in the simpler pleasures of life.  There is a rhythmic quality to the work that even from a distance is going to make passersby smile.  Her figures are dancing on the roofs in pure celebration of everyday life.  She captures the uplifting that art can bring to individuals.

Kate Lagaly comes to Person County via Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina.  She is a self-employed artist and has taught numerous classes and workshops in these states fo r the past 30 years.  She is a member of the Burlington Artist League, the Colored Pen Society of America, the Watercolor Society of North Carolina, and the Southern Watercolor Society. She has created murals for buildings in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida.  She painted four of the 4′ x4′ and one 8′ x 8′ quilt squares for the Person County Quilt Trail. ” I absolutely love art! I have been making art since I was young. Art is woven into every part of my life and everything I do, it has been a constant companion and a driving force.”  This is very obvious in her work whether it be in watercolor, or a penciled drawing, or a large out side mural.

According to Kate, “The creative process for me starts with thinking and imagining, basically creating in my mind.  This is followed closely by research.  The research for this mural proposal began with time spent in the Person County Library in the North Carolina Room.  I researched Person County and Roxboro history, an enjoyable topic.”  Her next step in the process she said was “to talk with the people who I know who grew up in Person County or who had lived here for many decades….Next I spent time in the Person County Museum of History.  Between my own impressions from living here, the museum visit, the books from the library, and the conversations some repeating visual images started to emerge. Much of what I drew in m sketches for the mural were the things that were being repeated and emphasized during my research.”  Her next I to sketch out her ideas and work with the ones that have captured her interest.  Having worked in many different mediums with many different subjects, Kate always looks for things which will unify the work.  In her murals she often uses a limited palette to keep things simple and create a unified look.  She first paints solid colors and then builds layers o texture, highlights, and shadows.

For one of her murals she chose to outline the state of North Carolina adding all the places and things one associates with the Tarheel State.  She paid particular attention to add many items associated with Person County.  This will make the mural not only appealing to the people of Person County but will generated interest to many others outside of the county.  For her second mural, she choose to create a landscape of the town and county.  This mural includes familiar sites in Roxboro and Person County.  These two murals complement each other and add strongly to the sense of our local place.  Along with Chrystal’s, they offer a celebration of small town life in our area.

Connecting the past with the present and future is not always an easy task, but sometimes it can be accomplished quite by accident.  The work of the third muralist, Daniel LeClaire, may just be the piece in this collection that does that.

“Daniel LeClaire believes in exploring the artist’s relationship to Universal Magic and Love through color, figure and shape.”  He shudders at the degradation of the natural world and feels  a connection to the world around us.  He uses bright and vibrant colors in painting nature to show the happiness that it can bring.  He also has a an affinity with birds such as hawks and tries to capture the beauty of their flight.  Daniel lived and attended high school in Indonesia and has a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Gonzaga University.  He has painted murals in California, Indonesia, as well as here in North Carolina.  His outdoor artwork can be found throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  His contribution to the wall of murals will be more of an internal nature than external.  While both Kate and Chrystal have chosen to create more realistic renderings, Daniel’s commitment “is to pay homage to the mystical experiences available to us every day through communion with the vibrant natural world we travel in.   Using color and shape I attempt to convey the beauty in life and the freedom which can be imagined through compassion and respect for our living environment.”  The design that he created for the Kirby project attempted “to provide a connection to the idea of the beautiful life of imagination and our ability to manifest personal freedom through the respect and marvel of personal magical spaces.”

Living and working in South East Asia for 15 years, “the influences of the dynamic colors and the optimism of equatorial life are directly reflected” in his paintings.  As he says, “My work explores color and shape to create emotion and movement, an animated pronounced application of color to vivid imagery and shape trace my journey of inspiration and adventure in the natural world.  My paintings represent mystical journeys through personal space and alter realities, expressing human connection to the rhythmic energies of the cosmos and act as a reminder of the magical world that surrounds us.”

The murals have all been finished.  They are in the process of being framed by a local metal works to best present, hang, and preserve them for a long time to come.  When in place the traditional depiction of our state, the city and landscape of our county, the joyous dance celebrating life, and the soaring bird and background will offer something for everyone.  This will be a great addition to our community and is sure to generate much interest outside of our area.  All three artists are well known in many circles, and this project will not only showcase their talents and visions, but also reflect the diversity and of inner and outer world of the place we call home.  Watch for coming announcements as to when the murals will be in place and then mark your calendars to meet these three who have contributed to the beauty of area.