CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In what has become an annual affair, a dozen artists will take to the street next month, dodging fast-moving motorists and pigeon droppings, to turn bland interstate columns into works of art.A group of jurors on Friday picked the final two winning entries for the third Peer to Pier mural program. The chosen few, who include three-time participants Jeff Pierson, Ian Bode and Charly Hamilton, have a two-month window -- June 1 to July 31 -- to complete their projects.This year the artists will paint the piers along Virginia Street -- six on each side -- as it passes beneath Interstate 64 near the Elk River.In honor of the state's 150th birthday this year, the theme for this round of murals is West Virginia's sesquicentennial. Designs had to reflect that theme in some way.
The 17 artists who submitted designs found a wide range of ways to meet the criteria.Pierson, known for his caricatures (he painted the mural on a wall of the One Stop near the Capitol), depicted founding fathers like Francis Pierpont and Arthur Boreman with more than a bit of artistic license.Both Hamilton and Bode will paint the Battle of Charleston -- blue-coated boys in the Elk City area on the left, fighting with their gray-jacketed brothers across the Elk River on the future site of the Civic Center -- but you'll have no trouble telling the two apart.For his mural, Dustin Durham fast-forwarded a century to pull a quote from John F. Kennedy's speech celebrating the state's 100th birthday: "The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do."Organizers with the city's Strong Neighborhoods Task Force will consult with the Historic Landmarks Commission, said Lori Brannon of the Planning Department, who came up with the pier mural idea three years ago."We wanted to make sure nothing was misrepresented, historically inaccurate."That's particularly important this year, as the city partnered with the state, which is coordinating the sesquicentennial festivities.A few artists bristled at the theme restrictions, though."The feedback I got was it wasn't that they didn't want a theme at all but this theme didn't fit their particular style," Brannon said."We hope there will be future opportunities. As long as we receive funding, we want to continue this project." Piers along Lee and Quarrier streets are the obvious future targets.Although the request for proposals was circulated beyond the usual channels this year -- the state posted it on the governor's website -- artists were slow to respond.
"We were really worried because we only had two or three the day before," said Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis, chairman of the task force. "They kept coming and coming. The thing I was absolutely amazed about was the talent."The final tally of 17 was a bit disappointing, Brannon said."There weren't as many submission as we'd have liked, but the quality was there. We had a hard time eliminating any."Bernice Deakins' entry, focused on the West Virginia Woman's Club, didn't fit the theme. But because one of last year's murals along Kanawha Boulevard is fading, she'll be asked to paint it there, Brannon said."It shows how important it is for artists to get the clear coat on there. They're exposed to weather. Its not just for graffiti protection." As the final step of their projects, artists are required to apply a city-supplied clear sealant over their murals.The next step is to assign artists to their piers. "We'll go down to the site and take into consideration the location of the piers, try to separate similar designs.
"There's also the logistics of it. I think some artists will feel more comfortable working close to traffic than others." Piers on the south side of Virginia Street are pinched between the street and an interstate on-ramp.While jurors were instructed to give preference to artists who had not participated before, only four in this round are new to Peer to Pier.That's not such a bad thing, Brannon said.Public art works by artists like Hamilton, Bode and Pierson are popping up all across town, giving Charleston a distinctive flair, she said."We have such rich local talent. We want to showcase it."Artists and their projects include: Charly Jupiter Hamilton (Battle of Charleston); Reaford Walker (John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry); Chris Nelson (House Divided); Emma Plagemann (A Capitol Celebration); Geoff Plagemann (State Pride); Rebecca Recco and Isaac Emrick (150); Ian Bode (Montani Semper Liberi); Jeff Pierson (Fathers of West Virginia); Sharon Harms (West Virginia State Symbols); Dustin Durham (West Virginia Shines); Kelly Bryant (Celebrating 150 Years with West Virginia Music); Ned Savage (portrait of West Virginians involved in the Civil War); and Bernice Deakins (100-Year History of WV Woman's Club -- Boulevard replacement).Reach Jim Balow at email@example.com