The mural dressing the wall at Murchison Road and Langdon Street is a familiar sight to visitors and residents of the Seabrook Park neighborhood – as is Dorothy Fielder and her clusters of volunteers.
The retired school social worker and Umoja Group co-founder can frequently be seen freshening up the paint and working in the adjacent community garden.
“We want to see the neighborhood take pride in it and we want young people to know they can do something to improve the community they live in,” Fielder said Saturday while overseeing a dozen or so volunteer painters.
Volunteers have been out in force lately, working to restore the block-long mural one more time before sealing it against the elements for the first time.
“It’s a huge project,” said Fayetteville State University visual arts professor Dwight Smith, who has been overseeing the mural’s restoration for the last two years.
The mural is constantly bombarded with direct sunlight, said Smith explaining that its size and detail make it difficult to restore the entire piece at one time. “By the time you get to the last section, the first one needs to be repainted again.”
Smith expects the work will take another year to complete, depending on weather. But he said he hopes to have the first section sealed before winter.
Maintaining the mural has been an ongoing project for Fielder since its creation. In 1994, Fielder enlisted the help of another FSU art instructor, the now deceased Francis Baird, to create the mural on what was then a graffiti-covered eyesore.
The Wall of Honor, as it came to be called, tells the history of the people of the neighborhood, Fielder said – from the slave ships on which the first African Americans arrived to the faces of modern black heroes of the community. Those heroes include long-time community basketball coach Joseph “Pops” Jones and Joyce Malone, the Army’s first female African-American parachutist.
“We wanted to honor the everyday heroes,” Fielder explained, “so that kids get the idea that you don’t have to be a star to be important. Sometimes heroes are living right next door to you, or sitting across the table.”
Several new faces have been added to the Slater Avenue end of the mural – Fielder’s among them. Others new faces include FSU graduate Nicholas Perkins who last year made a $1 million donation to his alma mater, former N.C. Supreme Court justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and Cumberland County Commissioner Jeanette Council.
These are not the mural’s first new additions. Two years ago, Ghana artist Mark Buku painted three intricate African tribal masks next to depictions of tobacco and cotton crops.
“He wanted young people to know that their history did not begin with slavery,” Fielder said.
But the majority of work now being done are touch ups to the original work. A large number of volunteers assisting with the work are Smith’s art students at FSU.
“It provides them with another painting experience and it gets them involved in the community,” he said. Smith said his students are staying faithful to Baird’s work meticulously captured in books and numerous pictures by Fielder over the years.
Visual arts student Eboni Campbell said Saturday was her first time working on the mural.
“I’ve seen it passing by and I’ve always wondered who painted it and who keeps it up,” Campbell said. “Now I can say I’m one of them.”
Staff writer Brooke Carbo can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3523.