James Larkin Pearson sketch

DEPICTION of poet James Larkin Pearson was sketched by Will Davis on Marketplace wall.

The artist who started but didn’t finish a mural on the full back wall of the Town of North Wilkesboro’s Yadkin Valley Marketplace said his involvement with the project will soon end.

William S. Davis said Town Manager Wilson Hooper told him that the 380-foot-long, 16.5-foot-tall mural will be finished next year by new artists working under the direction of town and Wilkes Art Gallery officials. He said he and Hooper spoke on the phone Wednesday about the project.

Davis said that after starting on the mural in 2016, he wasn’t able to work on it for about two years due to various family circumstances. It was planned and funded by the town and the gallery.

Davis said in an interview Thursday that Hooper “pretty much [said] it’s a no-go,” referring to his involvement with the project beyond finishing the left half of the mural without additional pay.

Davis, a Wilkes County native who lives in Charlotte, said he’s been paid $13,000 so far, including $4,000 from the gallery in 2016 and again in 2017 and $5,000 from the town in 2017.

“The town told me it has a new vision for the project,” said Davis. “They said they didn’t feel like they got their money’s worth, and they didn’t think it’s possible for me to finish.”

Hooper said Wednesday that the mural project would be discussed in the North Wilkesboro commissioners’ work session on Nov. 21, but didn’t share any details.

Davis said Hooper told him Thursday that the commissioners would likely vote on approving a new contract spelling out terms for the project’s completion, including any remaining work by Davis.

“I was really trying my best to make sure I finished the project,” said Davis. “Of course, hurt pride is involved, because I’m a native son of Wilkes. It’s a project that is important to me. My stance is, there’s a real value to finishing (the mural). I’m really at a loss right now.”

In early November, Davis completed sketch work on the middle and eastern sections of the mural. Earlier this week, Davis said he had intended to finish the entire mural by the end of this year under an oral agreement with the town and gallery.

“My plan was to have the community out this weekend (to help with the mural),” explained Davis. “I had lined up 10 people to come out. But (Hooper) asked me, as an act of good faith, to not do anything to the mural until I had signed a contract (spelling out terms of completion).”

Sketches of Wilkes Countians on the left half of the wall that Davis says he will complete include Capt. George Allen Gilreath, who is purported to have advanced the farthest during Pickett’s charge during the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg; a noose representing the fate of Tom Dula, hanged for murder after the Civil War; Judith Williams Barber, former slave and matriarch of a large local family; James Larkin Pearson, N.C. poet laureate from 1953-1981; and Otto Wood, an infamous outlaw in the Depression era who was known for his jail escapes. It also includes a depiction of the Flood of 1916 and moonshiners.

Other sketches on the right half of the wall may be painted over or completed by artists other than Davis, but those he planned include Major Larry Bauguess, killed in Pakistan in 2007. Davis said that to paint over the Bauguess sketch would be disrespectful.

Depicted in other sketches on the right half are musician Doc Watson; Lowe’s Companies Inc. logo; Wade Harris Bridge in western Wilkes, bypassed when U.S. 421 was widened to four lanes; Wilkes Community College; stock cars driven by Benny Parsons and Junior Johnson; and comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis.

Wilkes Art Gallery Executive Director Ashley Barton said in October that the concept at that point for completing the mural was to divide it into three manageable sections, with the gallery funding and facilitating completion of one.

Barton said, “Public art is transformative. It not only changes a physical space, but becomes a community centerpiece. We believe that this project will have a positive impact on Wilkes County.”

The gallery received four proposals from prospective mural artists before the window for entries closed on Nov. 1.

The commissioners approved hiring Davis to paint the mural in April 2016, but he said this didn’t include a signed contract.

Town board minutes show it was approved as a $20,000 project in April 2016, with $4,000 apiece from the town and the Wilkes Art Gallery in 2016 and 2017 for a total of $16,000. Funding was also to include a Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership grant of $2,000 in 2016 and 2017 for a total of $4,000.

Minutes say the Cultural Arts Council possibly was going to contribute $2,000 in 2017, and the town was going to assist with wall preparation, pressure washing/priming and use of a lift truck.

Davis worked on the mural in the summers of 2016 and 2017. He designed the mural and worked with honors art students from Wilkes Central, West Wilkes and East Wilkes high schools in sketching and painting the mural in June 2016 and June 2017.

“The (gallery) also made an in-kind contribution of paint and supplies, some of which we’ll try to use again this time around,” said Hooper.

Davis completed work on the left or western end of the wall that depicts elements from the late 1700s such as Catawba and Cherokee Indians; Wilkes County namesake John Wilkes, an English politician who supported American independence; and frontiersman Daniel Boone.

It’s not certain if a rectangular sign with the inscription “Greetings from North Wilkesboro,” similar to popular postcard designs, will be painted on the eastern end of the wall as planned. A recap of historic events throughout the town’s history was planned inside the letters of “North Wilkesboro.”

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