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Mural design has that winning 'Touch' in Martinsburg

April 06, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The contentious journey to have a mural in downtown Martinsburg now has but one final step: painting.

Six members of the city's Historic Preservation Review Commission on Monday night unanimously approved a plan to paint a mural on the side of the city-owned Market House Grill.

It was the final step in a long process. A prior plan to paint a mural on a different building encountered some opposition from commission members and eventually was abandoned after the building owner withdrew his permission.

The artist for the latest mural, William Cochran, presented a proposal to commission members that included photos of several murals he has done in other cities, including Frederick, Md.

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His work for Martinsburg, titled "The Lonesome Touch" will be "almost a jewel-like mural," he said. In one recessed arch, it depicts a master fiddler playing and a young female student listening. The adjacent panel will show a contractor kneeling, stopped and listening to the music, Cochran said.

Because it is a trompe l'oeil, or fool-the-eye, mural, Cochran predicted that "people will mistake these (figures) for real every day."

That realism is cause for concern for some, Jeff Curtis, director of Main Street Martinsburg, said after the meeting. While he wholeheartedly supports the mural, Curtis said, some people object to a sign above the contractor's head that will read "The American Folklife Society."

No such society exists and Curtis said it's possible people will enter the Market House Grill, seeking it.

After the meeting, Curtis suggested Cochran reconsider painting the sign, or what it will read.

The sign, Cochran said, unites the figures and gives them a reason to be there. He said the sign provides a balance between making the mural mysterious or clear.

Before voting, Commission member Karen Waldo asked Cochran what the connection is between the musicians and the carpenter.

"I kind of miss the symbolism," she said.

Cochran responded that the carpenter is a "tongue-in-cheek" reference to the restoration and revitalization efforts in town.

Earlier in his proposal, Cochran said the carpenter shows that the mural is for everyone. "This is the kind of art you don't need a dress code to enjoy," he said.

Commission co-chair Don Wood was a vocal opponent of the prior mural project. He said he supports the latest idea because it will not damage the building.

While the previous proposal called for painting directly on the side of a Queen Street building, Cochran will paint his figures on panels, which will then be mounted to the side of the Market House, which is on Queen Street.

If the panels ever should be removed the only evidence of their existence would be a few holes in mortar joints, Cochran said.

The commission's unanimous vote was greeted by a smattering of applause.

Once people see the mural, its quality and what it will contribute to the downtown area, Curtis said requests for additional murals could follow.

Painting is expected to begin in June and conclude in the fall, Cochran said.

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