By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Layer by layer the mural builds, like Joplin’s tornado recovery.
While craftsmen raise the city’s houses and businesses in stages with concrete and wood, artists have been at work to inspire the community’s recovery with clay.
“Rise of the Phoenix,” a 3-D wall mural, was being pieced together Friday and Saturday by a collaboration of sculptors and potters, helped by residents who went to view or lend a hand to the project.
Arkansas sculptor Trent Talley designed the three-panel mural as a project for a workshop he was invited to conduct at Phoenix Fired Art, 1603 S. Main St., a teaching studio and fired art gallery.
“We might as well do it big. We’ll make something you can put on the side of your building,” Talley told the operators of the studio, Brent Skinner and Heather Grills, of his idea for a workshop project.
Talley would like to see children and teenagers receive more education in the arts. “I think hopefully this mural will inspire some young people, or people are inspired by what they see” to explore the arts, he said.
Talley’s design depicts the steps that go into making pottery, intermingled with words describing the process as well as words of inspiration. The three-panel artwork starts with a foot pushing a shovel into the ground, signifying the digging of clay that starts the steps that go into the medium. The centerpiece is a kiln opening to show pots that have been fired. The final panel depicts someone eating from a bowl fired in the kiln.
“We actually are putting together a small documentary of the process with time-lapse cameras,” showing the progression of the work every 10 seconds, Grills said.
How much clay went into the project? “Literally a ton,” Grills said.
It was a marathon to the finish. Grills said building of the mural by volunteers who mostly are members of the studio or area artists started on Thursday evening and had to be finished by Saturday night.
It could be two months, though, before the mural is ready to be hung, Skinner said.
It will have to be placed in a storeroom to dry. How long will that take?
“Until it’s dry,” responded Grills, explaining that drying time is hard to predict because it varies according to the size and thickness of the piece, how much water is in the clay, the humidity in the air, and other factors.
Skinner, working on the first panel of the mural, used a piece of lumber to square a line of clay. “That’s the cool thing about clay is it’s forgiving at this stage,” he said. “Then it becomes fragile when it dries until it’s fired.”
Jeff Jones, of Neosho, was one of the volunteer sculptors who worked on the piece Friday afternoon. Though he works alone in his studio now, “I am used to this,” he said. “I love these group pieces. Before, for a number of years, I did exhibition sand sculpture,” working with a team. “So I am used to this. I love this because everybody feeds off each other for inspiration and energy.”
A sign outside the studio invited the public to come in.
“I saw this and I thought it would be fun,” said Vicky Mays, of Carl Junction. She said she’s a musician, not a visual artist, but she was able to make some pots and lettering. “They’ve been very patient with me,” she said.
The cost of the mural project was funded by donations of more than $2,500.
Public art projects
Several murals are being prepared for downtown Joplin.
• Art students at Missouri Southern State University have designed a mural for a billboard at A and Main Streets. It will depict the late George Spiva, the Spiva Center for the Arts and the Union Depot with the message “Welcome to Downtown.”
• Images in tile, owned by Paul Whitehill, is preparing ceramic tiles for a mural depicting Route 66 themes to be installed on the south side of the Pearl Brothers hardware store in the 600 block of Main Street. Route 66 originally went through Joplin on Main Street and Seventh Street.
• The cultural arts committee of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce has commissioned a mural for the south wall of the Corner Greer Architects building in the 700 block of Main Street.