May 11, 2006
Ty Ty-- People in many small towns want travelers to remember having traveled through where they live.
But how do small towns, with almost no extra money, generate a favorable impression? Leave it to a spry lady with a quick laugh to come up with a plan that includes a big break for an aspiring teenage artist.
People rarely notice small towns as they speed through them, but Grace Thompson wants to change that. "The little town when people come through it they will say, 'Wow, how pretty,'" says Grace as she stands near a vacant house a few feet from busy highway 82.
Grace and her fellow garden club members maintain three modest flower gardens. "I live here. That's why I care," says Grace as she pulls a tall weed from one of the beds with angry fire ants below. The town of 800 needs more people like her. "It's a little bit disgusting," says an embarrassed Grace.
A big pile of rocks, old appliances easily visible, dilapidated buildings that look as if they will fall down any day, and litter detract from the town's natural beauty. "It hadn't changed too much in the past 30 years," says Harold Stephens, who came to Ty Ty in the 60s.
A few property owners take a lot of pride in their buildings, but sadly a lot of them don't. But Grace had a plan. She contacted an art teacher at the Tift County High School to find a special student. "Have talent, discipline and drive," says Meredith Holland, the art teacher. For a temporary job. "I've never done anything like this before," says Kathleen Hilliard, a delightfully confident former art student of Meredith's as she stood at the base of a huge painting, her painting.
Her parents made sure of her commitment before she opened the first can of paint. "Once you start, you must finish it," says Kathleen of her parents' requirement. Kathleen took a big risk, one about 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide, to paint a mural of a cotton field that acknowledges Ty Ty's agricultural roots.
A silhouette of a farm worker with a large green shovel completes the mural. "Doesn't sound too big, but is big," says Kathleen as she opens a small can of green paint that she retrieved from under a broken down van that sits nearby. Some of her friends wondered if Kathleen had taken on a job too big for her. "I think a lot of them didn't take me very seriously," says Kathleen as she put green paint over white areas that had somehow missed her brush.
Kathleen took the project seriously, though. "The hardest part was getting it all laid out," she says. Most of the mural was black and white. "You can really get into working with the values, the darks and lights and the shadows."
The black and white mural is a rather different style since most murals include multiple colors. Kathleen finished the project after more than a month of early mornings and late afternoons, when some of her classmates watched TV or attended sports practice. "I like it; I'm proud of it," says Kathleen, signing her name to the lower left corner, signifying the she had completed the mural.
Her first paid art project finished, and where she hopes the 12,000 or so people who pass through the small town everyday will slow down and see the art. Kathleen will paint another mural on the other side of the building, starting in about a month.