Posted by: newperspectives85 | August 15, 2013

Mural in Lynchburg turns heads

Mural turns heads in Downtown Lynchburg

Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 8:59 pm | Updated: 2:56 pm, Thu Apr 25, 2013. Darrell Laurant

Jill Nance

Megan Wells paints a mural on the side of the Academy of Fine Arts on Monday afternoon.

Mural turns heads in downtown Lynchburg

Jill Nance

Megan Wells paints a mural on the side of the Academy of Fine Arts on Monday afternoon.

One brush stroke at a time, Megan Wells is giving downtown Lynchburg a lift.

In order for this to happen, however, something had to lift Megan.

Enter, then, two machines Michelangelo would have given his right arm to have employed on the Sistine Chapel job. They look like Lego-built giraffes, long necks rising up from squat bodies, one with a 60-foot reach and its big brother stretching 20 feet higher, and they move up-and-down and side-to-side on command.

That is what’s required when an artist’s canvas measures 131 feet by 51 feet, the dimensions of the Main Street-facing side wall at the Academy of Fine Arts building.

“Definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” said Wells, whose design for the mural was selected over 18 other prospective Michelangelos in an Academy contest.

“It really came down to two entries,” project leader Ted Batt said, “and it was decided that the other one was too much like an advertisement for the Academy, which we couldn’t do.”

Already close to completion, the mural vibrates with energy — much like Megan Wells herself. As she painted Monday afternoon, borne high by the 60-foot lift, she wore Goodwill jeans, sneakers from Paris and lime-green sunglasses.

“I went to Goodwill and bought a whole muraling outfit,” she said. “Then Brent [her husband, a reporter for The News & Advance] and I had a discussion about which shoes to sacrifice, and I picked these, even though we had bought them in Paris. They just seemed perfect.”

A former art teacher in Florida, she had done murals before but on a much-smaller scale. Like most muralists, she works from a grid system in which a sketch laid out in inches is projected into feet.

“When Brent and I first moved to Lynchburg last year,” she said, “I saw this wall and thought, ‘This is a wall that really needs a mural.’ Then I heard about the contest, and I just had to enter it. The hard part was I found out in September that I’d won but had to hold off until spring because the weather was turning too cool to paint.

“I couldn’t wait to get at it.”

In the meantime, more ideas percolated. As it has emerged, the mural shouts out in bright colors, populated by the Virginia state bird (a cardinal), state flower (a dogwood), the James River and the Lynchburg skyline. The skyline is cradled in the giant fingers of a musician, as if it were being played.

“That was one of the first things I thought of,” Wells said.

On March 27, she climbed into the head of the tallest giraffe (a covered platform at the end of the neck holding buckets, brushes and harnesses) and applied the first paint to the far upper right corner of the building. Since then, she has worked doggedly toward an early May completion date.

“Next Saturday is my birthday,” she said Monday. “It would be really cool to finish then.”

She has worked most days in April, except for a couple of rain-outs.

“The day it got up into the 90s, I went home early,” she said. “It gets really hot next to that wall.”

The “look at me!” colors and some of the rounded edges on the mural resemble graffiti street art, and Wells readily claims that as an influence.

“I’d have finished faster if I’d used a spray can, though,” she said with a laugh.

Yet unlike most graffiti artists who work clandestinely, Wells is proceeding with the full support of the community.

“We showed the design to our staff, to a committee from [neighboring Genworth] and to the Holiday Inn Select,” Batt said, “and they all liked it. We also had to show it to the city, because they would have a say over something that large.”

“The project was funded completely by a grant, donations made specifically to the mural project and in-kind gifts,” Academy Executive Director David Jenkins said.

James T. Davis donated the paint, D.L. Bryant Paint Contractors the use of the mechanical lifts.

A number of local groups have turned out to help, including the United Way Young Leaders, some Bank of the James employees and the Academy staff.

“My parents were here last weekend,” Wells said. “My dad got up in the lift and worked, my mom preferred to stay close to the ground and paint some of the bottom.”

Wells gets honks from passing cars as she works, she said, and Academy public relations director Tanya Fischoff said she has seen people walking down Main Street “almost walk into trees when they see it. They’re transfixed by it.”

And, perhaps, uplifted.

Contact Darrell Laurant at (434) 385-5544 or


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