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Volume 24, Number 11 — December 2017

Bristol Library Commissions Mural for Children's Area

This pencil sketch of the South American section of the mural demonstrates how fanciful, realistic and intricate the artwork will be.
This pencil sketch of the South American section of the mural demonstrates how fanciful, realistic and intricate the artwork will be.
Additional photos below »

Theme: "Going Places"

By Angela Wampler | June 27, 2007

One year from now, children visiting the Bristol Public Library will find themselves on a trip around the world. They will be surrounded by a fantasyscape created by D.R. Mullins, the artist selected to transform two walls into a multicultural, fanciful mural.

The Children's Department in the new library was designed with the theme "Going Places." The "story room" is a miniature version of a train depot, and there is a two-lane blacktop woven in the carpet. The department also has an illustrated ribbon running around the top of the walls depicting landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal. Mullins' mural will transport youngsters to all of these famous places — and more.

One of the challenges Mullins faced was incorporating five "old-timey school clocks" into the design. The clocks are labeled with international time zones. Mullins took that concept, expanded it and incorporated it into his design. In conjunction with each clock, Mullins will paint a series of international panels on one wall with scenes from each of the major continents of the world — South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Australia, as well as the Middle East — depicting their people, architecture, and physical features such as mountains, lakes or oceans. At the top of each panel will be one of those clocks. The second wall will be a traditional Appalachian or "Americana" mural, with people playing music.

Mullins describes his concept as "fanciful and appropriate for kids" and his approach as "a stylized animated quality, steeped in realism." For example, the South American section will feature pinatas, Aztec sculptures and the legendary "lost city" of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Library Director Jud Barry noted that every panel will include illustrations of children reading books or adults reading to a child and that the library would incorporate the murals into its programming. He added, "The mural will be fun, informative and educational."


THE ARTISTIC PROCESS

After learning about the call for entries for the library mural, Mullins spent two days looking at the space and brainstorming on-site. Mullins said, "It's a wonderful space, the kind of building where I will be flattered to have my art."

Mullins continued, "Once I got a vibe about what I wanted to do, I met with Jud to discuss the criteria, and we walked through the facility. I ran my initial ideas by him personally, and he was very enthusiastic."

For his presentation to the library board, Mullins produced sketches of the mural. He has already enlarged some of those drawings and made transparencies for an overhead projector with which he will transfer the images to his canvas.

Mullins will paint the mural in four-by-eight-foot sections in his studio in Shady Valley, Tenn. His "canvases" will be tempered masonite, which he will sand and prime, mixing wood glue with primer paint, then he will paint on the slick side, using acrylic paints.

Once complete, the sections will be assembled in a seamless mural spanning two walls, each approximately 20 feet long. Mullins expects to install it in two days.


THE SELECTION PROCESS
In their selection process, the library board of directors considered proposals from six regional artists whose portfolios included other mural commissions and/or experience illustrating children's books. All the prospective artists have been recognized widely for their abilities.

Once members of the library committee decided on their preference, they started negotiations with Mullins. The library will pay Mullins $30,000 for the mural.

Barry said, "The quality of D.R.'s work sold us on his design. His characters are engaging and filled with personality, suggestive of the best illustrators in children's literature. In addition, during his presentation, he emphasized that he was going to have scenes packed with details, pictured through the eyes of a child. Even creatures in a creek will have personality."

Mullins explained, "When I was a kid, I was fascinated by artwork with hidden images — where the more you looked, the more you'd find. So I plan to hide images as I paint. The mural will be chock full of stuff. It will grow and grow and grow."

Previously, Mullins created murals for the Virginia Gas Company, Virginia Highlands Community College and the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. He currently does free-lance set design for Barter Theatre.




D.R. Mullins appeared on the cover of A! Magazine for the Arts in 1998 when he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Virginia Highlands Community College.