A! Magazine for the Arts

Abingdon Mural Project Begins With Stories

August 19, 2012

The story of a community lives in history books, memory and human spirit.

This fall, Abingdon, Va., will begin developing a visual aspect of the town's story with the inception of a Main Street public mural project. The mural is one aspect of Advance Abingdon's plan to revitalize the Main Street park located beside Brandywine Antiques, the building site chosen for the mural. This project is supported in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Artist Ellen Elmes, commissioned by Advance Abingdon, will spearhead the project. A muralist for more than 40 years, Elmes will begin researching the history, events, places and people of Abingdon by conducting a series of interviews with long-time residents of the historic town.

"I look forward to speaking with anyone willing to share their memories, knowledge, perspective or photographs, that pertain to the history and human experience of Abingdon, yesterday and today," says Elmes. "I'm interested in learning both the broad picture of important, notable passages of time and events in the town, as well as specific human interest stories that symbolize the character and grit of Abingdon's people."

Elmes will be available to meet with community members in the initial oral history aspect of the Abingdon mural project at different times during the months of August, September, and October. Individuals or groups of friends or family members who have stories to tell and information to share are encouraged to participate.

Oral history and memory exchanges with the artist will be held at Holston Mountain Artisans' annex, on the following Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 22 and 29, Sept. 5 and 12, Oct. 17 and 24. Sunday sessions will be held at the annex from 1 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 26 and Oct. 7.

Additional sessions on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m. will also be available at the Washington County Public Library System's main conference room on Aug. 25 and Oct. 6. All sessions are free.

To make an appointment with Elmes, call her at (276) 881-8941. Walk-in participants are also welcome, with the understanding that there may be a waiting period.

In addition to the collection of oral histories and interviews, the artist will extensively research the history of Abingdon by use of historical archives, literature, newspaper articles, photography collections, yearbooks and whatever else comes her way. During the coming winter months, Elmes will utilize the accumulated material to design a mural for the west facing wall of Brandywine Antiques. She will reach out to student and local artists who would like to intern in the actual painting of the mural on the wall. The painting project will be initiated in the mid-to-late summer and early fall of 2013 and, if more time is needed, be completed during the spring of 2014.

Elmes has lived with her husband, Don, in Bearwallow on Jewell Ridge in Buchanan County, Va., for more than 40 years. In her artist statement, she reflects on her mural career with these words:

"My mural painting experience has proven to be a means of serving the visual voice of communities. The process of making a mural challenges me to translate spoken memories and insights from people in the community into visual stories. It is an exhilarating experience because I am uplifted by the pride and ownership that community residents take in a work forged by truth, collective memory, and common journeys. I feel I am truly participating in democracy as a community mural painter and organizer because everyone involved is equally important in working towards the final result, each in his or her own unique way. I find it gratifying to work with people of varied ages, ethnicities, and perspectives because of the rich blend of experiences that are voiced in the resulting, finished works."

For additional information about Abingdon's mural project, contact Advance Abingdon at 276-698-5667.