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Third pier murals tied to state's 150th

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The third round of Peer to Pier murals will focus on history, organizers say, in honor of the state's 150th birthday.

That means folks who come to watch artists at work during FestivALL this summer are more likely to see depictions of Civil War soldiers than the gold domes and sternwheelers popular during the first two years of Interstate murals.

Artists who wish to paint one of the 12 pillars that flank Virginia Street under Interstate 64 this summer -- and earn $2,000 for their efforts -- have about three weeks to finish their designs. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 19.

You can find a detailed request for proposals at the FestivALL website, festivallcharleston.com. Click on the link on the home page.

"The main requirement of the installation is that each pier must celebrate West Virginia's Sesquicentennial, our 150th birthday," the RFP says.

As in the past, murals are 10 feet tall and start 2 feet off the ground. They must wrap completely around the columns, which are 4 feet in diameter (12 feet 9 inches in circumference).

The RFP lists several general goals:

* Improve the overall aesthetic look of Virginia Street, providing an attractive view for visitors to the Charleston Civic Center and area hotels.

* Improve the pedestrian linkage between the West Side and the city center.

* Generate and continue interest and awareness of public art in the city of Charleston.

* Leave a lasting mark on the cityscape for FestivALL 2013, making the city truly become a work of art.

But where the first two groups of pier murals focused on Charleston's general history and ties to its rivers, organizers with the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force decided to link the project this year with the state's birthday party.

"It's my understanding the Sesquicentennial Commission was looking for projects," said Lori Brannon of the city Planning Department and the founder of Peer to Pier. "It makes sense for Charleston to celebrate it too.

"I don't think [the theme] will be so narrow artists won't be able to find something to do," Brannon said.

To that end, the RFP offers some ideas:

* Charleston and West Virginia's role in the Civil War.

* Western Virginia's representation as outlined in the Virginia constitution.

* Western Virginia delegates to the Richmond Convention.

* The election of President Abraham Lincoln and his call for volunteers to put down the rebellion.

* Personal stories of West Virginia's statehood leaders and members of the first West Virginia Legislature.

* West Virginia's Union militia.

* African-American soldiers from West Virginia.

* Locations/sites of significant Civil War/sesquicentennial events.

A jury will announce the 12 artists chosen for the project on May 1. To encourage variety, the jury will give preference to artists who have not painted piers before. But those who have -- several painted piers twice already -- can apply again this year.

Artists have some leeway in how to submit their designs, Brannon said.

"We're asking for enough information to visualize what the concept will look like, whether that's a black-and-white drawing with a color palette or -- last year Janet Chambers, she submitted a water color painting. It was a piece of art you could frame and hang on the wall.

"One time an artist did the drawing and then he pasted it together into a column. People can submit electronically, too."

After two years of organizing the mural project, Brannon said she's learned you can never start preparing too early.

That includes working on safety issues with the city Traffic Engineering Department and state and federal highways folks.

Because half the piers this year lie on a narrow strip between Virginia Street and an on ramp to I-64 West, the city proposes to carve out safety zones on both sides with orange cones and close the sidewalk on the south side of Virginia Street, plus add warning signs.

Artists can start painting as early as June 1 this year and need to finish by July 31, and are expected to work during FestivALL (June 21-30), Brannon said.

"On this project, artists really seem to want to do this," she said. "We haven't really had any trouble getting them to finish.

"When you consider how big a piece of art it is if you flatten it out, some of the artists could get a lot bigger commission. I think we're really fortunate."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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