Artist paints unique history in Prospect mural
Melanie Tucker (email@example.com)
In one corner is a rendition of Cudjo’s Cave in Friendsville, where more than 2,000 runaway slaves are said to have escaped the slave states of the South through this portion of the Underground Railroad.
Nearby are portraits of two local trailblazers, Nancy Smith Wright and Shirley Carr Clowney, the first two African Americans to integrate Maryville College, in 1954.
Gazers at the wall will most certainly recognize Blount native Lamar Alexander and former Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt.
The mural, which was unveiled on Tuesday morning, is the work of local artist Amy Campbell. It was hard, she said, to narrow down what parts of Blount County’s past to include. In addition to the above-mentioned faces, Cades Cove, ALCOA Inc., Eusebia Presbyterian Church, historian Inez Burns, pioneer and statesman Sam Houston, John Sevier, musician Tommy Covington and author Cormac McCarthy have all taken their places on the wall. All have made significant impacts on Blount County.
Placement on wall
“I had a lot of help narrowing down the list from Lelia Rogers,” Campbell said. Rogers is the school media specialist at Prospect. Once a list was compiled, Campbell did her research on each in order to get the portraits and places as lifelike as possible.
“Since it’s for children, I wanted to paint them in a whimsical way to catch their attention,” Campbell said. “That was fun to do.”
Campbell started painting the mural after school was dismissed for the year back in May. She completed it in time for classes to reopen for a new year. She said there were groups of children who came to the school over the summer who got a first peak at the mural.
“They were full of questions,” she said. “Like ‘why is the courthouse on fire and where’s that cave.’ I would love to be a fly on the wall and just sit and listen to their questions.”
Campbell holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Tennessee and has previously served as professor of graphic design at Carson-Newman University and Maryville College. Members of the community were invited to the unveiling. Shirley Carr Clowney and Nancy Smith Wright were on hand to view the work that includes their likenesses. Both were pleased with the outcome.
“It is so humbling,” Clowney said. “This will be here for future generations to learn more about history.”
Kathy McCroskey, bookkeeper at Prospect, had a special reason to be present for the unveiling. Up in the top right-hand corner of the mural is a military plane flying overhead. That plane was painted by Campbell in honor of McCroskey’s late husband, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey McCroskey, who passed away earlier in the year at the age of 47. He was a member of the 278th Calvary Regimental Headquarters.
When McCroskey passed away in February, his wife asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the library at Prospect for this project. It was only fitting, Campbell said, that there be a tribute to him and other military families in this area.
Also present for the special unveiling was Blount County Director of Schools Rob Britt, Prospect Principal Jake Jones and Betty Best, longtime friend of the late Inez Burns. Burns’ photo is located on the left side of the mural.
Burns is familiar to many in this community. She was born and raised in Tuckaleechee Cove and is the author of “The History of Blount County.” The main road between Townsend and Sevierville was named after her: The Inez Buns Parkway.
It is the hope of Rogers and the others that this piece of artwork will spark interest in these parts of our past. Children will hopefully want to study about Cudjo’s Cave and the Underground Railroad. They might want to learn more about William Scott, the first black mayor of Maryville.
We can all learn
“I even heard some adults come in and say they weren’t familiar with Cudjo’s Cave,” Rogers said.
Campbell has worked on other art projects in Blount County. She painted the portraits that hang in the Maryville Municipal Center, including Sam Houston, Will McTeer and Isaac Anderson. This was her first school mural.
This one does focus on Blount County, but opens up conversations about our larger U.S. history. It’s a wonderful teaching tool, Rogers said.
Everyone in attendance had to agree.