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City halts museum mural painting

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By April Wright, Reporter

Jeff Matthews Museum, located on West Stuart Drive in Galax, saw more 200 visitors just during the week of the Old Fiddlers' Convention, and curator Tony Burcham believes the increase is due to a large, unfinished mural painted on the building and the publicity it's receiving.

Before the mural, the plain brick building near the Galax Public Library was hardly identifiable.

Local artists David and Brigette Payseur started the painting last month when they were approached by the museum's board of directors.

However, during a Galax City Council meeting on Aug. 10, Doris Carpenter, who lives across the street from the museum, argued that the mural — a rectangular stripe of yellow, with “Jeff Matthews Museum” in bold black lettering was “unsightly.” She asked that city council reevaluate the decision to paint a mural on the city-owned building.

Carpenter told council that decisions like this, involving city-owned buildings, should be brought before the public in advance. Now, she worries that this mural could depreciate her property.

“That building needed character and something needs to be done to make it more attractive,” Carpenter told council. “The residents are trying to keep their homes attractive, and I’m stunned to see a huge rectangle of yellow — of the ugliest color — painted on the building.”

Carpenter also had protested to both City Manager Keith Holland and Mayor C.M. Mitchell. And on the week of Aug. 3, council decided to suspend the painting of the mural until the matter had been brought before council and it could make a decision.

Council members decided at the Aug. 10 meeting to take the issue to the Galax Planning Commission for recommendations. Now, the museum's board of directors and the artists are just waiting for the mural to be okayed to continue.

In the meantime, the museum's visitation is up.

“We're seeing a lot more visitors,” said Burcham, who has been with the museum for five years. “Before, people were calling and asking where we were located, or they would drive past it and ask for directions."

Others — including locals — saw the building but didn't know what it was, he said. “Some say 'we didn't know this was here,' and the out-of-towners say 'it's a lot easier to find.'”

Last year, the museum saw 2,218 visitors, but “we're just hoping to get more,” said Burcham.

The museum was founded by Jeff Matthews in 1974 and has been located in the same spot since 1978.

Margaret Thomason, daughter of the founder, said the museum's board of directors had been talking about adding signage or a mural for several years, but “we wanted something you could see other than a sign.”

The opinions of the mural have been mixed.

“Another woman, who said she lived across the street from the museum, said she loved it and couldn't wait for it to be complete,” Thomason said. “Daddy would have loved it.”

At the council meeting, Carpenter had suggested that the city get some of the many talented local artists to paint a mural on the building. However, the Payseurs are local and well known for their talent. They own an art-teaching studio in Woodlawn.

The couple has painted more than 900 murals in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, including a couple in Hillsville, such as the one painted on the side of Court Street Coffee.

Brigette Payseur said that when Thomason approached her and her husband about the concept of the mural, the artists were told the museum “had a problem with people knowing where it is and this might increase business” — and she could relate.

The day she was to meet with the board of directors, Payseur bypassed the museum and had to call for directions.

The museum board of directors had told the artists what they wanted in this mural — a yellow coloring to harmonize with the red brick, black lettering inside the rectangle, an arrowhead, a log cabin and a bear — incorporating various elements found inside the museum.

She and her husband had planned to use a color similar to 18-karat gold. The letters were to be highlighted and shadowed, and a mock-up drawing shows that a cabin was to be painted on the left side of the lettering, and on the other side, a bear.

“Right now, people are judging unfinished artwork,” Payseur said. “We're not doing just signage, but a mural. But that's what it looks like [now] — signage.”

Carpenter noted at the city council meeting that $1,900 in donated funds were to be used to paint the mural. However, the Payseurs and the museum had decided that, if they were to get a grant, they would start a mural art class and students could partake in the design.

“Right now, we had planned to leave some blank space underneath the mural. But later, [students] could help add some stuff below it to finish it up,” said Brigette. “We thought this would give more exposure to the museum.”

David Payseur said when he was in the museum a couple of weeks ago, nearly 30 people had visited within three hours.

“They wanted something so people would notice the building, and it apparently seems to be working... We're looking forward to finishing it,” he noted. The city manager would not comment on the design of the mural, but said the Galax Planning Commission has not yet met to discuss the issue.

Jeff Matthews Museum is located at 606 W. Stuart Drive, beside the former Galax Public Library. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., or by appointment. For more information, visit 236-7874.