School is back in session but you can still get away for a little weekend adventure. Load up the family for a fun day trip to Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia in search of public art. You’ll be amazed at the variety of exhibits on display throughout the community.
A drive through the historic Uptown District of Martinsville will take you past four significant outdoor murals. The “Circus Mural”, by John Stiles, is located at the corner of Franklin and Main Streets in Martinsville. It is a cheerful look back in time to 1920 when the circus came to town. The work depicts a parade of elephants wearing colorful banners as they plodded through the streets to herald the upcoming performance. You can even see an actual photo of this day in time by visiting the nearby Martinsville-Henry County Historical Museum on Church Street.
“Old Glory”, located on Franklin Street in Martinsville at the Theatre Works Black Box is a 38’ by 18’ American Flag painted by world renowned artist Scott Lobaido. Just looking at the incredible detail of this mural you can almost see the flag rippling in the wind. The most remarkable thing about it is that the creation was completed in just one day! Lobaido, known for his speed painting techniques, created the patriotic work in honor of local veteran, Cpl. JB Kerns who lost three limbs while serving in Afghanistan.
The “Uptown Farmers’ Market Mural”, by Betty LaDuke, depicts the role of agriculture in society and showcases the people that help bring food to our tables. After the mural was mounted to the wall at the Market on Church Street in Martinsville, a group of high school students under the direction of local artist Celia Tucker created their own interpretations of LaDuke’s work. The student’s wooden painted cutouts of produce and farmers can be seen throughout the Market.
The newest mural in Uptown Martinsville is “June German Ball.” Located on Martinsville's historic Fayette Street, the mural depicts a fictional scene from one of Martinsville's famed June German Balls, which were popular within the African American community in the early part of the 20th century. These balls were held yearly, in the heat of June, and featured celebrated entertainers from the Jazz age like Jimmie Lunceford & His Dance Orchestra, who performed at the event in 1938. The mural was designed and painted by Abigail Kieselbach and Briana Amos, interns participating in the New College Institute's summer internship program; local artists Charles Hill, Iris Gillispie and Lex Hairston; Piedmont Arts intern, Ally Sneed; New College Institute's Coordinator of Experimental Learning, Katie Croft; and Piedmont Arts' Director of Marketing, Communications and Design, Bernadette Moore.
Just a short walk from Uptown, you can see a variety of sculptures. The brushed steel sculpture, “Kabuki Dancer” by Barry Tinsley can be seen on the grounds of Piedmont Arts on Starling Avenue. Artist Ed Dolinger created a variety of sculptures, inspired by nature, that are found along the Uptown Connection Trail and Silverbell Trail in Martinsville. They include large-scale leaves, Silverbell blooms and small bronze sculptures of native Virginia wildlife. Young children will especially love searching for Dolinger’s bronze animals that are “hidden” along the corridor of the Silverbell Trail. There are eight animals to be found, including a rabbit, frog, turtle and trout.
Just a short drive from Martinsville, in the Village of Fieldale, you’ll find an iconic structure now repurposed as a piece of trail art. The 1931 Fieldale Iron Bridge was a beloved part of the community as many tales revolved around events that occurred on, above and under the bridge. The iron truss bridge spanning the Smith River was slated to be destroyed in 2009 to make way for a more modern concrete bridge until the community rallied together to preserve a piece of it. Located in Fieldale along South River Road, the structure now bears the names of nearly one-hundred past and present residents that cared to see the bridge saved by contributing financially to the preservation effort.
For a more lighthearted category of art, drive around the community to see how many painted brontosaurus sculptures your family can find. Part of the exhibition “Dinosaurs on Parade” you can find the long-necked dinos in a variety of places throughout the community. See if you can locate the cowboy, the student, the mirror-ball dino and even the friendly fellow named “Bud Ice-cream-a-saurus.”
Two of the area’s indoor murals are available for viewing on weekdays. Inside the SunTrust Bank on Church Street, a 73-foot long mural by Richmond artist H. Warren Billings hangs just behind the teller’s counter. The mural, which took a year to complete, highlights Virginia and local history. It features eight detailed scenes from 1705-1832, including: The Capital in Williamsburg; Richmond; The Henry County Courthouse; The Colonel Joseph Martin House; The Major John Redd House; Stratford Hall; Redd House; and Lover's Leap in Patrick County.
One of the most historic works of art in the community is the 1939 fresco, “Manufacture of Furniture” by Walter Carnelli. The mural is located in the historic Bassett Post Office on Fairystone Park Highway in Bassett and it depicts scenes of furniture makers at work. This is one of a series of murals across Virginia that was commissioned by the WPA under the Treasury Department. The fresco technique involved painting onto wet lime plaster. As the plaster dried, the pigments were embedded and became part of the building’s walls.
From industry and architecture to history, nature and culture, the topics of area works of public art are very diverse. Have fun discovering each of these area treasures with your family and who knows - you might inspire a future generation of artists!
If you need help locating any of these public art sites, visit the Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center (191 Fayette Street, Martinsville) for maps and helpful information. While there, pick up a copy of the Family Fun Passport that will enable you to earn a free t-shirt, just for visiting some of these sites.