Years ago the neighborhood around Our Thrift Store in Franklin, Tennessee, was not a great place to be. Only one block away one would find crime, drugs, and maybe even a bullet whizzing by. After much cleanup and A+ effort on behalf of the city as well as the residents, the area is much safer, cleaner, and moral is much improved.
To tie both storefronts together, the owner asked me if I could make it look like stone below the big windows all across the front of both stores. I drew a mock-up of samples of stone for him to choose from. Then, did a mock-up with paint on a piece of ply wood to give him an idea of the finished product. I began painting the stonework, only to have a few days when it got so humid that the paint did not want to dry. Not good. Each time I worked I tried to leave it so the area I worked on was finished. We then decided to carry the theme up the two metal panels that divided the glass between the two stores. I finally finished the stonework and all it needs now is a sealer, which will have to wait for better weather. The grocery on one side of the thrift store and the auto parts store on the other had both cleaned the front of their stores, but the thrift store had outdated paint that didn’t match on theirs.
I had been to the store a number of times before. It was the usual coming and going of folks, some speaking to each other a quick “Hello, how you doin’?”. Occasionally friends would talk for a while, then part. The first day of painting was simply laying on the dark brown base coat. The store was closed that day, but people started to notice what was going on. At first, not many people commented, only an occasional, “I just love that deep rich chocolate color”. The next time was actually painting the rocks. It didn’t take long for people to stop and look to see what I could possibly do to the paint I had just put on. The entire wall is about 110′ give or take. I think they thought I was crazy when they would ask what I was doing and found out I was going all the way down.
As the mural progressed, I noticed people stopping and staring. They would finally comment about how nice it looked. Soon, I was hearing, “I thought you were actually putting up real stones!” and “What is that? Are you gluing those fake rocks on there?”. I even had some very radically positive feedback of which I will not repeat in this column. Just so long as we stay positive! People started coming by to see how I was progressing, others would do a drive by, slowing down when they got to where I was working. Each day many of the same folks would make their way down to check on things. Everyone liked it.
The one thing I noticed in everyone was they were all happy someone cared to improve where they lived. You could see it lift their spirits, and there was no age, race, sex, wealth barrier to walk along and enjoy it. Many had never seen an artist at work before and stopped to talk. Lots of folks stopped to talk. One woman stopped to see how I was doing it. She had started a project on her bathroom wall, only to find she wasn’t sure how to get the desired effect. As I showed her how to sponge on paint, a friend shouted to her to come on. “Go on in, I am taking an art lesson!” she replied to the friend. She was so happy to finally figure this out. I never saw her again and I pray she accomplished what she set out to do. There were many people who had not been to the thrift store before, and would stand looking at it. I would proceed to tell them about it, we would talk about the weather and such, and they would go in, and thank me on the way out.
Many of these people may not have ever said a word to me, if I hadn’t been painting. There would have been the “hellos” and “how you doings”, but not more than that. I did have a friend ask if I felt unsafe there the one day I worked past the close of the thrift store. I can honestly say I never felt unsafe there. It was a busy little area, but everyone was doing honest business. The neighborhood has changed, and it has been for the better. I love the fact that paint can break down these barriers and turn an average “Hello” into “Have a blessed day!” I hope you each have a blessed day!