Oxford gains some public art with completion of mural
Susan Melrath stands with her completed mural in Oxford on Oct. 6.
By John Chambless
A nondescript cinderblock wall in
Oxford is now a vibrant mural, thanks to the persistence of artist
Susan Melrath, who completed the project on Oct. 6.
Melrath, who can almost see the mural from her studio on Third Street, recently came back to the Oxford area after spending two decades in Seattle, where public art is a vital part of downtown life.
“Seattle has an enormous public art program,” Melrath said as she applied the final seal coat to the mural. “It's funded by one percent of all hospitality and restaurant taxes that go towards the arts. It just enlivens the city, and gives it a sense of place.”
Melrath wanted to do the same for downtown Oxford. “My neighbor on Third Street is Oxford Mainstreet, and they asked me if I'd head up the design committee that has some money for facade grants for merchants downtown,” Melrath said. “But I also thought it would be great to do public art. I was talking about it to someone who grew up here, and they sent me a Christmas card with $1,500 in it, saying, 'This for you, and to grow Oxford.' At that point, I knew I had to do something.
“So I went to Oxford Mainstreet and said, 'Hey, I've got this money. Can you match it?' They said yes. I also got support from the Oxford Area Foundation, and we were well on our way.”
The mural is taken from a 2014 painting by Melrath that incorporates sinuous vines and leaf shapes. The warm colors will transition nicely from season to season, and the wall is visible from the municipal parking lot as well as the downtown post office. Anyone parking downtown will pass right by it.
“It gets a lot of visibility,” Melrath said. “The green here is also the site of the farmers market once a week. First Fridays are kind of headquartered right there as well.”
The building is owned by the Oxford Sewer Authority but is presently occupied by the Bog Turtle Brewery.
In the spring, Melrath gridded out the project on the wall and submitted her design to the donors and the design committee. “This kind of ties into the color that's already on the building, and it has kind of a botanical feel. It would look good in winter as well as summer. They said, 'Go for it.'”
It took about a week of intense painting, when the weather was right, to complete the mural. “I would love to see more art – not just my own work, but other ideas,” Melrath said. “Oxford Mainstreet is happy and interested in growing the public art program, and looking for donations. We have our eye on a couple of other locations that would be good for art,” she added, smiling. “There are some alleyways and maybe some mosaic art, maybe some lighting installations we could do.
“On the West Coast, I've seen little towns transformed by art. This is my only gift. This is what I can do. I'm happy they're letting me do this. I'm really grateful.”
The mural is lighted at night, so everyone will get a chance to admire it. The two windows in the building are left unpainted, but Melrath has grown to accept them, just as she accepted the wires and pipes that have been incorporated into the artwork. “It's part of the character of the building,” she said.
The one problem she may have is leaving the mural alone.
“That could be a problem,” she said, laughing. “But I think I'm done. It's bold, you can see it from a block away. I'm pretty happy with it.”
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.