Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated who paid for the the mural. The mural was paid for with a grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation.
Ars longa, vita brevis is a Latin translation of a saying by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. Art is long, life is short.
But sometimes, art just goes away.
On May 24, “Tree at Last ...”, a landmark mural at 534 N. Liberty St., was painted over.
Mike Coe, the building owner, said that Ian Purdy and Chris Self told him that there were artists who wanted to paint new murals on the wall. Purdy owns Reboot Arcade Bar, the business at that address, and Self is the general manager.
Coe said that there was some degradation of the mural on the upper part, so he felt it was OK to start something new there. “I told Ian: It’s got to be original art.”
“Tree at Last ...” was designed by artist Marianne DiNapoli-Mylet and executed by her and funded in part by grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation 2009. Artiva was a summer youth program of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County from 1995 to 2001.
“Tree at Last ...” was originally done in 2001, then moved from its first location on Trade Street, spruced up a bit and erected on the side of Liberty Street building.
In addition to the artists, community members contributed to the creation of the “Tree.”
“The entire top of the mural, the trees branches, was made up of people’s hand prints,” DiNapoli-Mylet said. “It was people from several Summer on Trade concerts in 2009.”
It also incorporated a dog’s paw print and a newborn’s foot print. The team painted at street level on fabric and then installed it on the wall with scaffolding and gel medium.
“It’s very permanent, if the wall is properly prepared,” DiNapoli-Mylet said. “A mural like that creates a sense of place, and people will come back again and again.
“It would be good if the city had a policy and guidelines for maintaining public art. It’s out in the weather. If you plant a tree you have to maintain it.”
A few weeks ago, citizens and public officials started talking about problems associated the degradation of the “Memory Wall” on Trade Street behind the Transportation Center. The public art work that originally involved the community around it has become a target of loitering, littering and, allegedly, drug-dealing and other illegalities and nuisances.
DiNapoli-Mylet is concerned that other, existing public art will go the way of “Tree.”
“The old Chronicle building on Liberty Street is for sale, and it has the only African American mural downtown,” she said. “Ernie Pitt is the one who put that whole thing together. There are depictions of black journalists and a quote from Frederick Douglas and his picture right in the middle.” Pitt was the founder and former publisher of the Chronicle.
On her Facebook page, DiNapoli-Mylet wrote: “RIP — Tree at Last ... 2010 — 2019, created with over 150 participants. ... The ‘hidden pictures’ depicted the history of the Arts District and was a memorial to Kelly Petersen, a founder of DADA who died (too soon) in 2009. ... The roots spelled LOVE.”
Coe said that he had not known it was a memorial to Petersen. “She was sacred to me,” he said. “She and Milicent.” Petersen and Milicent Greason were known around town as the Ninja Cowgirls, arts activists who created site-specific art, most often decorated signs exhorting onlookers to “Laugh,” “Love,” “Live.”
“I really worked hard on ‘Tree,’ and it told our story, and if it hadn’t been for the artists there wouldn’t be people coming downtown to the other businesses,” DiNapoli-Mylet said. “I had a couple of days where I just sat and cried a little.
“It’s a part of the community that’s been lost.”
Meanwhile, something new is being found.
“We have a team of artists who are going to be working on putting a new mural on the wall,” Self said. “Kelly Bone, the bar manager, is an artist, and she has rounded up more than 10 artists.”
Self said that he expects work to begin on Monday.
“We want to give voice to a new generation of artists,” Self said. “We want to perpetuate art on this side of town and keep the area beautiful.
“The new mural will feature things that inspired the artists as they were growing up. We are going to pull a lot of things together and express them in unison on the wall.”
Sounds a lot like vision and collaboration — just a new one.
On one hand, the future has to obscure the past; on the other, the past informs the future. I’m just hoping that those who prepare the wall for this new work will either find a way to make it last or be prepared for it to fade into the past as well.