Collaborative Artwork Project Bonds Community In Downtown Selma

Allyson Caison (center) with her aunt and uncle, Jackie and Kerry Hertreiter. Allyson led the project, bringing together the community and the arts council. Chandler Pernell (sunglasses and hat) is owner of Call Pernell Heating and Air Conditioning. He is the vice president of the Johnston County Arts Council, which celebrates its 50th year in 2022.

SELMA – Five local artists ripping brown paper to reveal their new five-panel art mural in downtown Selma brought town officials, business owners, residents and visitors spilling out into the busy intersection of Anderson and Raiford streets. Passing cars slowed to look as well. The mural reveal was February 2nd at 2 pm at Treasury Antiques, 102 S. Raiford St. Each panel portrays dance, music, theatre, writing and visual arts.

In 2021, Activate Selma partnered with the Johnston County Arts Council to create the new mural as one of the arts council’s 50th Anniversary projects. Selma resident Allyson Caison coordinated the project, which centers on the theme of “Celebrating Love through Art, Community and Culture.”

Percilla Williams of Selma, portraying dance, took inspiration from American ballet dancer Misty Copeland and put her ballerina en pointe with Selma’s active rail community in the background. “I was inspired with youth in mind – youth of all colors. I want them to see they can do anything they want to do, be anyone they want to be. Just be the best at whatever you do, and grow up into someone great,” says Percilla. (Seven years ago, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history.)

Sue Avera of Smithfield portrayed music in her panel, painting notes and concentric swirls to help viewers visualize healing, uplifting music being sent out into the community. Grace Brantley of Princeton chose to portray writing because of Johnston County’s diverse community, where more than one language is spoken in at least one-fourth of all homes. On her panel she painted the welcoming word, “love,” in nine languages: Aejong (Korean), Ai (Japanese), Amor (Spanish), Liebe (German), Liefde (Dutch), Love (English), Mahal (Filipino), Upendo (Swahili), and Yeu (Vietnamese).

Selma artist William Strickland portrayed theater. “For many people who travel to Selma, it’s family tradition to go to The Rudy Theatre. I spotlighted what I think is a Johnston County treasure. The Rudy has been celebrating music and drama since 1998 – it deserves to be put on a pedestal.”

Selma artist William Strickland, owner of Strickland Art Gallery on South Raiford Street.

Judy Boyette of Four Oaks was challenged to portray the visual arts, which encompass a wide range — everything from ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design and crafts to photography, video, film making and architecture. She focused on the different tools visual artists use to bring their arts to audiences.

“As president of the arts council, let me tell you this was quite a joy for us to collaborate with Allyson Caison in Selma and come up with the plan,” said Judy.

“We’re celebrating love, but we’re also celebrating Allyson’s perseverance,” agreed Selma Mayor Byron McAllister. “Allyson and I had a conversation about a year ago, at a point where she thought it might not come together. But her vision and endurance brought all of this to all of us. The artful changes that are being made throughout our community are just amazing.”

Judy also had the challenge of finding the correct medium for the panels. Regular wood and exterior paint or something special?

Kim Wooten, owner of Selma Jewelry and president of Activate Selma.

“When we were first asked to do this I needed to get a little product knowledge,” said Judy. She went to Lowe’s Home Improvement in Smithfield to the paint, tile and lumber departments to explain what the panels would look like and where they would be mounted – on the Anderson Street side of Treasury Antiques, which is more than 100 years old, and a former opera house, buggy maker and bus depot.

With the help of Lowe’s employees like Kevin Woodard, a former art student of Judy’s, she determined to use thick cement board, made of cement and crushed rocks, with a metal kind of canvas coating. Kevin mixed up six paint colors in a special formula Lowe’s made just for the project.

“It’s not even on the market,” Judy explained. “It’s an expensive pigment that is more intense than what you buy off the shelves. I was thrilled with the result.” She painted a pilot panel that she left on her house deck for three months in the elements. She said it even knocked over at one point and didn’t get damaged. Once she was satisfied, the artists painted their panels, starting with exterior primer first. After their artwork was done, exterior sealer was used front and back.

“I found a new definition of art work,” said Chandler Pernell, owner of Call Pernell Heating and Air Conditioning and vice president of the Johnston County Arts Council to the crowd’s laughter. “Have you ever moved a piece of art?”

Percilla Williams reveals her art panel with the help of Chandler Pernell.

Chandler was charged with installing the panels with the help of Albert Kensak, Chandler’s work team and Kim Wooten, Ron Hester and Jeffery Hamilton of Activate Selma.

“You’re going to see five beautiful pieces of art. What you’re not going to see is the joy on these artists’ faces when they were asked to create these paintings. You’re not going to see the sweat and the tears on their palettes as they were creating these paintings. You’re not going to see the excitement on Mr. and Mrs. Kensak’s faces, on this business that had to shut down for a year because of Covid. You missed that. You’re not going to see Albert out here measuring and mounting these cases like he was building Noah’s Ark. They’re perfect. You’re not going to see Ron and Jeff up on ladders. You’re not going to see Kim out here cutting ribbon in 45 mph wind from trucks riding by. You missed that. You’re not going to hear the 650 conversations that happened, making this thing coordinate just right. You’re not going to see my guys driving by with their moms and kids, and saying ‘I helped with that.’ Some snicker and say ‘art doesn’t improve life.’ That’s okay. But art work does.”

“Activate Selma is a group of business owners and residents who work together really hard to make our favorite little town unique,” says Kim Wooten, owner of Selma Jewelry. “We don’t complain, we take action. We figure out what we can do to make things better.”

The “Celebrate Love” mural artists, from left, Judy Boyette of Four Oaks, Percilla Williams of Selma, Grace Brantley of Princeton, William Strickland of Selma and Sue Avera of Smithfield.

The group gathers Wednesdays at 9am at varying locations to spark creative problem-solving. The February 9 meeting takes place at Pixie Dust Lunch Box and Bakery Shoppe, which is scheduled to begin serving breakfast on weekdays from 6:30 am to 10:30 am beginning Valentine’s Day, February 14. Activate Selma is also giving away a Valentine’s Day basket on Feb. 12. Anyone can leave their name and contact information at downtown shops for a chance to win. Follow Activate Selma on social media: Facebook.com/ActivateSelmaNC or Instagram @activateselmanc or ActivateSelmaNC.com.

In 2022, the Johnston County Arts Council celebrates its 50 th year of providing quality opportunities in the arts for every Johnston County resident. On Sunday, March 20 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm the council will host a special reception for an exhibit of county artists, in honor of council founder John Hobart, at the Frank Creech Art Gallery on the campus of Johnston Community College in Smithfield. For more information, go to the council’s website at jcartscouncil.org.

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