By Kelly Esposito
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
A large blank canvas in downtown Carrboro is about to get a makeover, again.
“We are going to get started as soon as the paint comes in and everything gets organized,” Weinstein said.
She is in the last stages of designing the mural, which will feature elements of the Chinese zodiac. She has ordered special paint that resists the wear and tear that sometimes plagues outdoor murals.
The actual painting process will be coordinated by Weinstein. She plans to enlist the help of local children through Volunteers for Youth, an organization that finds volunteers and mentors for children in Orange County.
“We’re going to set up a spring or summer program with the kids,” Weinstein said.
History of the mural
The wall used to be home to another mural that was painted in late 2002. It was the brainchild of Kimberli Matin, who owned the Zodi Gallery that was located next to Jade Palace. Local businesses and residents were able to purchase squares of the quilt-like design and participate in the painting process, said Jackie Helvey, owner of UniqueOrn Enterprises.
Weinstein oversaw the project, which featured the theme, “What does community mean to me?” The money earned from the project was donated to Club Nova, a non-profit organization in Carrboro that helps adults with mental illnesses, Helvey said.
“It took months to finish this thing; it was not a one-weekend project,” Helvey said. “It was a long and tedious process, but the end result was just beautiful.”
However, Helvey said the painters of the mural faced problems from the beginning. The mural was in violation of a town ordinance that prohibits putting business names on the side of a building if the businesses aren’t actually housed inside the building.
“We were breaking the law, and we didn’t know it,” Helvey said.
She said a solution was reached when the Carrboro Arts Committee, the Town of Carrboro’s arts advisory board, contacted Patrick Herron, Carrboro’s poet laureate at the time. The committee commissioned Herron to write a 32-word poem that would be painted over the 32 logos on the mural that were in violation of the town ordinance.
Each offending logo was covered, and one word from the poem and a number were painted in each square. The numbers corresponded to the sequence of the 32 words that when put in order, revealed the poem.
Helvey said it was nearly impossible to read the poem, but she thought the puzzle format was a creative way to avoid having to completely cover up the mural.
“It ended up being really cool because it was a poem,” Helvey said. “It was just a great idea and a great solution.”
A mysterious paint job
After it was altered in late 2003, the Jade Palace mural remained a downtown Carrboro staple until May 2007, when it was mysteriously painted over.
Helvey said what happened remains uncertain, but within about an hour, the entire mural was covered with a coat of light mint-green paint.
A former Carrboro resident apparently hired men from the homeless shelter to paint the wall. Helvey said the man previously had his own mural issues in downtown Carrboro, when a mural on a building he owned was in violation of the same ordinance as the original Jade Palace mural.
The man did not immediately revise the painting on his building, and it got to the point where the town was prepared to take legal action, Helvey said. He eventually covered it up, and sometime thereafter, he moved to California.
“He must have been out there in California stewing,” said Helvey.
Helvey thinks the man flew back to Carrboro in May of 2007, hired the men, and then left while they were in the middle of painting the Jade Palace wall without paying them.
“Literally hours and weeks of work in that one hour was completely obliterated,” Helvey said.
Although Helvey and Weinstein say they are enthusiastic about the new mural, not everyone who participated in the creation of the original artwork shares their sentiments.
Herron wrote the poem “I Am Not A Wall” that was used to alter the mural so that it would comply with town rules.
Herron said the puzzle format was not his idea and that he did not know his work would be used in that form until he actually saw it on the mural. He said the piece was “impossible to read,” but he did not complain.
However, Herron’s primary concern now is about the repainting of the mural. He feels that the poem, which was site-specific and dedicated to former Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, is being treated as “disposable” by not being included in the new design.
“No one has talked about the fact that the poem was destroyed, too,” Herron said. “Nobody seems concerned about returning it to its rightful place.”
Despite the mural’s history of controversy and mystery, its story will continue during the spring with Weinstein leading the effort once again.
“I’m just thrilled that Emily has taken this on,” said Helvey. “She did such a great job the first time around. She’s a fantastic artist, and I have confidence that anything she creates will be fabulous.”
Click here to see a photo of the original Jade Palace mural.