To Beryl Solla, its creator, the CityArts Mosaic Mural across from Amazement Square is “a quiet, contemplative place where I can get into a zone while I’m working.”
To Mark Thompson, it’s “a cross between a crossword puzzle and paint by numbers.”
And to some of the other contributors to the 4,800-square-foot mural, which was dedicated and celebrated on Thursday, it was community service.
“The police department arranged it so that some young people could participate in this project instead of serving jail time,” said Amazement Square director Mort Sajadian, who thinks the mural might be the largest in North America. “Some of them really got into it after awhile,” added Jeremy Thompson, an Amazement Square employee and Mark’s brother. “At first, they were like, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
Over the seven years of the CityArts project, it seems a significant percentage of local residents have found the time to attach at least a few tiles.
“That’s one of the neat things about it,” said Amazement Square’s Melinda Zadel. “You can walk right to the spot where you contributed and show people.”
Solla, a Charlottesville artist who has finished similar murals through Virginia and the Carolinas, found mosaic-making addictive.
“I drove down here by myself one Saturday, just because I wanted to work a little more on some flowers,” she said. “I told everybody, ‘I’m not here in any official capacity – I’m just here as a civilian.”
The mural was supported financially by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Genworth Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Lynchburg, among other sources. And the use of volunteers – many from the CityArts Mentoring organization — trimmed the cost considerably. “Mort did it for less than I would have charged to do a much smaller one,” said Solas, who organized the mural as a history of Lynchburg.
“We started working on it in 2005,” said Zadel, “and most of the work was done in the summer. We had to take the summer of 2007 off because of construction in the area.”
Every effort was made, Sajadian added, to keep the volunteer army inclusive.
“We worked with the Boys & Girls Club,” he said, “and with Miriam’s House, and with some disabled artists. We wanted the whole city to take ownership of this.”
The mural still needs some tweaking, Sajadian said – a few more tiles to adhere, a sealant to apply that will keep the tiles from fading. Meanwhile, he’s ready to put in a claim for at least a national title.
“I did some searching,” he said, “and came up with a glass-tile mural on a Wing Lung Bank building in Alhambra, CA that was listed as the largest in North America at 4,300 square feet. We’ve already got that beat.”
In the final panel on what was once a dull, white-washed wall on Jefferson Street, Beryl Solla introduced another kind of optimism. “The last panel of the mural is about the future,” she said, “and we’ve made that very upbeat, with windmills and green roofs and a lot of other things people think will happen. We had a community meeting, and asked people about it.”
And a long future, it is.