Liz Garcia, a friend from
Hollins University days and now a doctoral student in the Center for Children’s and YA Literature at the University of Tennessee had the brilliant idea of adding an original, reading related mural to the new quarters of CCYAL. She invited me to submit a proposal and we went from there.
I love working in a trompe l’oeil style, so I conceived a big, fat, open book filled with the sights and symbols of the Great Smokey Mountains, Knoxville and the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
On my 1st day in Tennessee Liz took me on a road trip to the Smokey Mountains and I got to take my own photos of the famous Carter Shields Cabin in Cades Cove. The cabin and the split rail fence appear in the finished mural.
Of course it was essential to add as many of Tennessee’s state symbols as possible. This graphic, by Joanna Dee Studio was a huge help. I think the only one I haven’t included is the tomato–but Dolly Parton’s red boots will have to do!
Speaking of Dolly–originator of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, the text in the mural is a line from Rocky Top, written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and performed by the incomparable Dolly Parton, who hails from from nearby Pigeon Forge, TN.
Painting on cinder blocks results in a very rough look, plus, the CCYAL wasn’t certain they’d always be in this spot so we planned a “portable” mural painted on a smooth sheet of 4’x8′ mdf board mounted to the wall. The director of CCYAL, Susan Groenke, helpfully painted it a medium brown so I didn’t need to cover a pure white surface.
One of the 1st challenges I faced was how to create deep space on a 2-D surface. Luckily, the Great Smokey Mountains are known for their layers and layers of receding blue summits.
In this series I made a major change to the mural by repainting the mountains and simplifying by adding a river of fog. I think it increases the illusion of space. The orange and white checkerboard on the pages behind is a common motif on the campus of the University of Tennessee. To the left is young Smokey, a Bluetick Coonhound who the mascot for the Tennessee Volunteers. See how many other state symbols you can find.
To finish the mural I darkened the background dramatically and added shadows to enhance the trompe l’oeil effect. The day I left Tennessee the University sent all the students home because of Covid-19. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy and comes back to UTK.
We are Tennessee Strong!
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6 thoughts on “A Mural to Celebrate Books and East Tennessee”
Wow!!! Just Wow!! Thanks for sharing the whole process!
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Thank you, I’m so glad I remembered to take process photos!
Gorgeous work, Ashley!
Thanks so much, Julie. Praise from you warms my heart.
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It was so nice to finally meet you in person after corresponding remotely for several years. You are beautiful, charming, and talented. My kind of woman! Your work as illustrator, author, and artist was on full display in your mural at my alma mater, the University of Tennessee. It is an accurate depiction of scenes from this region and an inspiration for future illustrators. Keep up the good work, and come back to Knoxville whenever you can.
What a lovely message, Tony. Thank you so much. I certainly hope to return. It was a wonderful experience meeting you and Rachel too.