Outdoor artwork continues to flourish in Old Fort

Tom Flynn, Black Mountain News

The "Seven Wonders Trail,” a collection of seven outdoor paintings depicting area attractions, has quickly woven itself into Old Fort's downtown fabric.

“We’ve heard, along with our partners, a lot of great feedback from people in town and in the area,” said Arrowhead Artists and Artisan League’s president, Helen Sullivan. "It’s had a very positive effect on the self-image of Old Fort and its citizens."

The Off-Road Assault on Mount Mitchell mural is the latest in Old Fort's "Seven Wonders Trail."

Members of the the league worked from sketches by Old Fort Elementary School students to paint the 6- by 8-foot panels that thread through town and comprise the trail.

The league, also known as A3L, augmented the trail with an ambitious 24- by 36-foot mural on Catawba Avenue called “A Time to Build” that depicts eras of Old Fort’s history. The league continued to build on the success of the painting project this summer by adding another oversized mural to its outdoor offerings.

League vice president Lorelle Bacon, who contributed to the original trail and the subsequent mural, was tasked with depicting another area favorite – the Off-Road Assault on Mount Mitchell, or ORAMM. Completed in September, the mural now adorns the façade of the Parker Hosiery store on Catawba Avenue, a building owned by Jeff Parker of Millcreek Properties.

The Off-Road Assault, a rigorous mountain bike race that begins in Old Fort, winds 60 miles toward the peak of Mount Mitchell. It has the reputation as being one of the Southeast’s most challenging bike races.

Bacon was already active teaching art classes and workshops, but she was happy to make time to work on the Off-Road Assault painting. As with most outdoor art efforts, she had to submit to Mother Nature's whims. 

“It was supposed to be in April, but then it got moved to July," Bacon said. "It was hot. By a certain time of day the paint would dry instantly."

She worked daily from 12:30–2 p.m. into the first week of August, sharing a lift with a nearby furniture company to gain the needed height to complete the work. She used exterior house paint and top-coated it with a sealant to prevent UV ray and weather damage.

The July heat gave way to heavy August rains, and the effort was halted again. In September, Bacon was able to complete the project.

Like the Assault, the painting presented challenges.

“It was supposed to be one male mountain biker, but we added a female biker one week before the painting was started," Bacon said. The original plans also called for a vertical image on the building’s side. When the location was shifted to the front, a horizontal orientation made more sense.

"The biggest challenge, Bacon said, "may have been that I’m 75 years old and have the accumulative aches and pains."

The league's process for executing a new outdoor painting in town has become increasingly streamlined, Sullivan said.

“It depends on a couple of factors," she said, the first of which is a business or building owner willing to host a mural. "The league and I will talk to the building owner about what they may be interested in and how to fund it," Bacon said. "We usually get the money by fundraising or from funds provided by the building owner or other interested parties.”

What’s next for the group?

“Right now we’re contemplating doing a mural depicting the North Carolina Gold Trail,” said Sullivan. “A lot of people don’t know that we had a gold rush in North Carolina long before California did.”