The Guntersville Museum will have a grand mural of the Tennessee River of north Alabama on their floor completed within a month.
Museum director Julie Patton said that the mural is to the point of adding in reference points, dam sites, previous dam sites, historical locations and possible some outlying streams to give it some perspective.
Mason Holcomb is the artist working on the mural.
"As people walk along the river mural," Patton said, "they will kind of know where they are."
Patton said that she has an event happening on Sept. 18 and she hopes the mural is completed by that date. She said that once it is complete, there are a couple of other steps that will take place. She is wanting to paint a small area above the mural and seal the area. Her hope is that it will last a long time.
The state of Alabama is creating a mural trail and there will be a brochure related to this. The Guntersville Museum will be on the mural trail because of the floor mural. The old post office mural and the Guntersville High School mural will all be in the brochure. The museum will have a replica of the post office mural and the Guntersville High School mural since those are hard locations for visitors to get in.
Holcomb has been an artist for years. He said one way that he was able to stay off his knees a whole lot during the project was by converting mops into paint brushes. There is no foolproof way to stay off his knees, but he tried to limit his time on his knees while painting the mural.
Holcomb said that the painting has been done in layers. The finer detail has been done on his hands and knees. He is 6-foot-7 and he joked about it being a change in altitude when he works on the mural on the floor.
The work was done in a grid system and sections. He had to work in layers, letting one dry before he could start a second one.
Holcomb said that if you look at a map of the Tennessee River, Guntersville is in the bottom part that goes down, across and then back up. We are in the bottom horizontal part of that which makes it hard to paint in a straight line. Native Americans referred to the Guntersville area as "the great bend" in the Tennessee River.
"Trying to format the river to fit in the aspect ratio, which is 14 feet wide by 65 feet long, is a difficult problem, if you want people to be able to walk on it the entire way," he said.
If it had been in the exact proportion, then it would have been a lot shorter, just so it could have shown the geographical locations. They wanted an artistic interpretation so that people could walk on it.
To do that, Holcomb had to break down a digital form of the river itself and try to format it within the space that he was using. From that he broke it down into 8-foot sections.
He did the layering technique because it is concrete. It has had some drying process with curing some of the primer. He said it has been truly one of the most step driven pieces of artwork that he has ever worked on.
"Once this part is complete, we actually have some historians coming in to help place the geographic locations that are important such as dam locations, historical battlefields, and Native American lands," Holcomb said. "That way people have a feel for not just this body of water, but what the community around it looks like."
He showed on the map where Guntersville is located and he stated that there will be a key marker for Guntersville.
There will be land masses around the river, but he will be showcasing mountains and other geographical locations. It will be less static and more dynamic.
Patton said that it is not a map. More artistic liberties are being taken in the mural and they wanted more of a "painterly art piece." She explained that they have maps elsewhere.
"It is a good mix of painterly and realistic interpretation," Patton said.
Most of the Museum visitors who have been there while Holcomb has been painting have been really good about not getting in the area where he is working. There have been a few foot prints, though. It was not an issue and it seems as though everyone understands that it is a working museum. They could not shut the museum down to paint the mural.
At the beginning of the project, they had intentions to work with a rolling cart so that Holcomb did not have to contentiously get items from a different area. However, he was afraid that he would leave tracks so he decided against that.
He has been working on the project since June. Patton said the museum had new carpet and she wanted a break up in the room. She did not want to carpet the entire room. With the break in the floor is has helped to divide up and section some of the exhibits.
She said that they initially left the break raw, but the board met and talked about doing something with it. They decided to add some color to it and that was when they decided to do the Tennessee River.
They wanted to use it as an educational tool for those who are not from the area and a sentimental mural for the locals.
Holcomb started drawing as a child when he went to ballgames, where he had a sketch book and a pencil. He was having to entertain himself and it became a passion for him. It is something that as time went on, he pursued.
He was not able to get into the craft until he moved to Guntersville in middle school. He had Val Jones as his teacher and she was a big inspiration for him. She caused him to look at art in a different way and he has been interested ever since.
For the mural, Holcomb said he has been pacing himself so that he does not cause too much stress on the body. He has limited himself from working 8 hours in one day and being laid up the next, to waiting between layers. He said that he is giving himself time to get to the next layer.
Patton said that Holcomb is very disciplined when it comes to his artwork.
He said that this is the first mural he has ever done on the floor, but he has done several on walls both inside and outside. He is working on his portfolio.
Holcomb has some of his work displayed at the Guntersville Museum and he also has some pieces in at Mountain Valley Art Council. He was the executive director there for 4 years.
"This is the primary place where people can come and see my art work. I wanted them to see something that was representative of the community," Holcomb said.
Holcomb just graduated from Jacksonville State and is building his portfolio to expand his education. He is currently teaching art to first through six graders at Geraldine.
He is hoping to show his work to those students by taking them on a field trip. He said that he wants to show his students what they can do if they chose a career in art. He wants to show them how valuable it could be to the people around them.
There are several factors that will go into finishing the mural so an actual date for the opening reception has not been given.