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Painting the past

Pa. woman's mural reflects hometown's history

Pa. woman's mural reflects hometown's history

August 16, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The log cabin where President James Buchanan was born, the stone spring house of Hugh Mercer for whom Mercersburg is named, the fountain that once stood in town square - Jane and Ken Tyson have them all in their front hallway.

The couple hasn't committed the greatest robbery in Mercersburg history, and they're not magicians.

But Jane is passionate about the town's history, and Ken, well, he's passionate about his wife.

So when Jane said she wanted to paint a mural depicting town landmarks in the front hallway of their 100-year-old Foursquare home, Ken Tyson wasn't shocked or surprised.

"She's always been interested in painting and wanted to go and see what kinds of things have been done," said Ken, 75, who often visits Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown's City Park with his wife.

While Jane, 73, had never painted a mural before, her only trepidation when she started in 2006, was whether she would have the persistence to complete the 21 feet of walls around the entire hallway. She did, finishing in 2007.

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"The most challenging aspect is the patience, I think, to continue because you think, 'OK. Will I ever get done?'" Jane Tyson said.

Why a mural?

Jane Tyson didn't just wake up one day and decide to paint a mural.

When Tyson retired from the Tuscarora School District in 1996, she took painting lessons; some through the Apple Valley Decorative Painters Club to which she belongs. The club meets once a month at Brook Lane's visitors center near Smithsburg. She learned to paint pictures, Christmas ornaments and gift boxes.

Around 2004, she became interested in Rufus Porter, a folk artist known for his simple, primitive style. Porter went from painting watercolors to landscape painting on walls of private homes in New England, according to The Rufus Porter Museum's Web page.

Some of Porter's murals have been removed from their original settings and are on display at different museums, including the Rufus Porter Museum, located in Bridgton, Maine.

Porter's style isn't abstract, but it isn't realistic either, Jane said. "It's not everybody's style," she said.

The process

Jane started by sketching the mural on paper. She chose a mural displaying historical landmarks in Mercersburg because of the town's rich history.

She applied a fresh coat of cream-colored paint to the walls, using a flat sheen.

Before approaching the larger walls in her front hallway, Jane practiced on a narrow panel in the back of the hallway. When the paint would drip down the wall, she learned how crucial the paint's consistency is. The paint shouldn't be watery. She kept a wet cloth nearby to fix mistakes.

Once she was comfortable she had the hang of it, Jane would tackle one segment of the wall at a time.

Before she did anything with the walls, she photographed the subjects to use as notes for the mural.

She started at the horizon and moved up or down from there. First she drew a chalk outline. Then, using acrylic paints, she began painting the background elements - such as mountains, clouds and farm fields - to the front of the image, details such as windows and tree branches.

Most of the painting is done with brushes, but she used sponges for the tree foliage.

"It's very interesting because you're painting looks very flat at one point, until you put on the shading," Jane said.

Jane likes how the mural came out, but she's not itching to do another one. At least not now.

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