Walt Fieldsa who painted the original Knoxville Music Mural is restoring the mural so that it’s better than before.
Developer Leigh Burch III and his company, Terminus Real Estate, bought the building where the Knoxville Music Mural was attached in 2014.
In April, 2016, he had the mural painted over with brown paint. The mural had faded and Burch cited recent graffiti on the mural for his decision.
Burch was on vacation when newspaper stories and social media began blowing up over the mural being painted over. Social media was filled with comments of both sadness and anger.
“I realized I made a mistake,” said Burch on Tuesday. “My phone blew up. I got hate mail …”
In early 2017, Burch contracted Walt Fieldsa to restore the mural.
“It’s a good feeling to see it brought back,” said Burch. “I haven’t seen it look this good. What was there a year ago was pretty cracked and faded and needed a lot of TLC. You find out that people were as passionate about a piece of art as they were that mural, you really start looking at it in a completely different light. I’ve been up on the scaffolding with Walt and seen the progress. It feels like it’s giving something back to the community.”
Fieldsa starts working a little after 6 a.m. and takes a lunch break at the hottest part of the day before returning in the later afternoon. The color on the mural is brighter and the features are more detailed than in the original. He has also added country music great Con Hunley to the painting. Hunley was somehow left out of the original design.
The original mural was commissioned by Keep Knoxville Beautiful. At that time, Fieldsa used whatever paint he could afford for the original mural from the small grant the organization provided. This time, he said, he’s using high quality paints made by Golden. Fieldsa said approximately a quart of blue paint costs $200, but with a discount, he’s been able to get it for $112. He’ll finish the project with a $500 gel coat gloss that will protect the colors from fading and from vandalism and the mural shouldn’t see any fading for 40 years or so.
“All the colors will stay true,” said Fieldsa.
The total cost of the restoration is expected to be approximately $28,000.
“Leigh has been great,” said Fieldsa. “He’s been a man of his word. He keeps asking me if I need anything and he’s the only one providing any financial encouragement.”
“I’ve just given Walt free rein,” said Burch. “I try to meet what he needs. … It’s almost like a construction project when you build a building. As you commence and progress you go over the budget you started with. The number ends up significantly higher, sometimes 30 to 40 percent higher. The way we approached this project, though, is it’s not a business deal. It’s not like there’s an economic return. The return is something immeasurable.”
Liza Zenni, executive director of Arts & Culture Alliance, an umbrella group for Knoxville Arts Organizations, was a harsh critic of Burch when the mural was painted over.
“I think the community was heartbroken when the piece was painted over and the community spoke out and Walt and Leigh stepped out and I’m thrilled to pieces that they did,” said Zenni.
Fieldsa said he was led to believe that the Alliance would add funding to the project. Zenni said, however, that after the mural was painted over in 2016, the organization ceased all funding for art on privately-owned buildings and never revisited a motion to create a contract that would create an exception with a contract obligating private owners for the upkeep of the art. Zenni said the organization moved on to other public art projects.
Burch said he really hadn’t expected any money from the public sector, but he feels some irony in the outcome of the mural:
“When I covered it up it was an important piece of property for the citizens of Knoxville, but now it’s (treated as) a private piece of art for Leigh Burch.”
Fieldsa said all of the materials needed to finish the project have now been purchased and he hopes to complete painting by the end of July. A public dedication may be planned after the completion.
Burch says he loves the refurbished mural and he’s learned something from the experience.
“I’m one of these guys who likes to make things happen now,” said Burch. “If I was more patient this wouldn’t have been so costly. If I had to do it over, I’d take the long road. I made a mistake, a really costly mistake, but I’m going to feel good when I pull into the parking lot and look at what is now a really beautiful and lively mural. I think in the end the whole thing is a positive – for me, for Walt and for Knoxville.”
The Knoxville Music History Mural has been a part of the Old City on Jackson Avenue since 2000. It depicted artists including The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, Leola Manning and the Tennessee Ramblers, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Homer and Jethro, Red Rector, RB Morris, Ida Cox, The Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Donald Brown, Brownie McGhee, Mary Costa, The Swan Silvertones and many other artists who got their starts or were associated with Knoxville. In all, 41 artists and personalities important to Knoxville music history were represented.
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