Art critics

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By April Wright, Reporter

Galax residents voiced both their support and opposition for the mural being painted on the Jeff Matthews Museum during a Galax City Council meeting on Monday, before city council decided to move forward with a redesigned version of the painting.

Since “mural” wasn't clearly defined in city codes, the Galax Planning Commission had been trying to determine whether the mural — now just a yellow stripe background with “Jeff Matthews Museum” painted in bold black letters — complies with the sign ordinance. Last month, the commission decided that it didn't, since the 348-square-foot painting far exceeded size requirements of 18 square feet.

The commission also decided that it was not a mural, but a sign, due to the wording inside of the yellow stripe.

The commission has since held work sessions to better define city codes and size requirements.

Regardless of meeting sign requirements, the problem still needed to be solved with the halfway-painted sign already on the Jeff Matthews Museum. The museum board, neighbors and mural artists David and Brigette Payseur met to discuss what could be done to make the mural comply, as well as come to a compromise with some neighbors who opposed the bold, yellow color.

Doris Carpenter, who lives across from the museum, was first to come to the city with a concern, saying that the mural was “unsightly” and the city should choose another option to attract visitors to the museum. Before a bear and a cabin could be added on each side of the stripe, work was halted.

The final mural design is a panoramic view of the New River with visual elements — a corn field, a bear, a cabin and an arrowhead — representing items the museum board feels are important.

Even after the new option was presented, Carpenter said she opposed any mural on the museum. The new sketch would cover up the yellow box and the “Jeff Matthews Museum” letters to create a mural instead of a sign.

Below the mural, the design drawing shows a smaller version of the black and yellow “Jeff Matthews Museum” sign that would now comply to the sign ordinance.

“I find out that I'm not alone in my comments and don't want anything being painted on the building,” Carpenter told council. “It doesn't comply with the size.”

Carpenter suggested that the city-owned building be better maintained by the city, as she pointed out debris on the bottom edges of the building from mowing and weed eating.

“It needs proper landscaping,” she added. “It's more than just a mural. It's about preserving the building and having something we all can enjoy.”

Another neighbor to the museum told council he had visited the museum many times and was shocked when he returned from vacation to find that the building contained a black and yellow sign.

“Black and gold doesn't fit into the neighborhood. Let's leave the black and gold to the football teams,” he said, noting that he's a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He said although “mural” wasn't clearly defined in the codes, he doesn't see the yellow painting as a mural, but rather a sign, due to the wording inside of the box.

However, others spoke on the artists' and mural's behalf.

“The first design needs to be finished first before making any judgement,” said Pat Moxley, a resident of Galax for 16 years and a visual arts teacher at Galax schools. “To go to a second design that may cause more controversy is far worse.”

No matter what design is chosen, said Moxley, not everyone is going to be happy. That's why it's best to remedy the color yellow with softer colors.

Council Member Bob Lazo agreed with Moxley.

However, leaving “Jeff Matthews Museum” written in bold letters would not comply with the sign ordinance size, Mayor C.M. Mitchell noted. Making an exception “would just open a can of worms,” he said.

“I think the painting is very tasteful,” said artist and Galax High School student Joyce Kuang. “The voices from students are very important, and I believe the mural will draw in people of all ages.”

Sabrina White, who lives on Oldtown Street close to the museum, has lived in Galax for 20 years and has spent many days at the museum.

“To have a beautiful mural on the museum and to see these treasures come alive would bring me such happiness,” she said. “I like that this mural welcomed individuals specifically with items in the museum.”

Council Member John Garner said he has driven past the museum thousands of times, but when the mural went up, it was the first time he noticed the building in a long time.

“The museum has received more people than in weeks before,” he said. “That's the point.”

The new design is a good remedy to the situation, he suggested. “I'm not talking about the art. It's more of a sign than a mural. But you can't take off the sign without defacing the building.”

Mitchell noted the options: the mural can be painted over; it can be sandblasted off, but would deface the building; or the entire building could be painted, but that would leave a major maintenance issue as the sun causes the painting to fade and wear.

The new idea for the mural, he said, is now in compliance with the sign ordinance.

Keith Barker, acting city manger, said the new mural design would cost $2,500, and would be a credit to what has already been done. The first mural design was estimated at $1,900.

“If we continue, I fear that this will tear the community apart,” said Vice Mayor Willie Greene.

Council accepted the museum board's recommendation for the new mural design.

“I'd like to thank all of those involved,” said Council Member Derrick Davis. “We were able to come together as a community to find a solution.”