There’s probably no one in Blount County who’s had their eyes to the sky this past week more than Nicole Salgar and her partner, Chuck Berrett.

That’s because these two artists are in town to paint an outdoor mural for the Walls for Women project that is celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment, which the state of Tennessee did on Aug. 18, 1920. Tennessee was the tie-breaker (36th) state that helped get the amendment passed to give women the right to vote. This is the 100th anniversary.

Every day they have been painting, thunderstorms or showers have moved through. The paint they are using does dry quickly because of the summer heat, Salgar said, but they need sunny days to get the work done on time.

Getting the full view

The location for the large piece of outdoor art is the side of Bike N’ Tri, 601 E. Broadway Ave., in downtown Maryville. It measures 100 feet long and is 30 feet high on one end, 15 feet high on the other. The business owner is Will Norris. Salgar and Berrett got started early last week and hope to finish by Aug. 18 or 19.

The painting incorporates the majestic Smoky Mountains as its backdrop, Salgar explained. She opted to be more surrealistic in her design and isn’t using renderings of famous people or super heroes to tell her story of women and equal rights.

“This is a friend of mine,” she said, pointing to the face on the wall. “I like to use portraits of real people, someone I have a connection to. I get more into it that way.”

Salgar is also incorporating a lock into the mural along with a hand holding a key. She leaves interpretation to all who gaze upon her creation.

“Everyone who looks at it will have a different perception,” Salgar said. “Some can look at it as a journey within. There is a lock and a hand with a string to a key that can open that lock. That hand can belong to anyone. I like that it’s mysterious.”

The face of the woman will definitely cause passersby on Broadway to slow down and observe, the artist added. She said the face has a gaze that is both confronting and comforting.

Walls for Women, by women

This Walls for Women project is the brainchild of Kristin Luna, who started a nonprofit called DMA, which stands for Do More Art. She resides in Tullahoma, Tennessee, now but spent years in New York and California as a traveling journalist and blogger. She began working with small towns in Tennessee to create arts projects to put them on the map.

Luna enlisted the help of 10 female muralists from around the country to paint murals for Walls for Women here in Tennessee. Besides Maryville, Knoxville has one being done currently along with McMinnville, Tullahoma, Union City, Greeneville, Nolensville, Nashville and Centerville. They are all scheduled to be completed to celebrate the centennial of the Aug. 18 passage of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee.

The Blount Partnership got on board and helped pay the expenses for Salgar to come to Tennessee and find a suitable location for the mural.

This past Thursday, Salgar and Berrett were dodging raindrops early in the afternoon. Progress had definitely been made over the course of the week. Berrett said it is a little deceiving.

“We still have a lot to go,” he explained. “We are in the block-out phase right now. Blocking out and getting sections of color up on the wall. We then have to do shading and detail.”

It’s like the base is done but now layers have to be added to make things lighter and darker, Salgar added. She said they would like to be done a few days early so they can enjoy East Tennessee sights.

Salgar is a native of Miami who spent 14 years in New York City. She has been painting murals since 2012.

Diving right in

“It was a very impulsive decision,” she explained. “My partner and I had been curating and participating in DIY art shows. It got me to really focus on painting again, and I had this urge to try painting a mural. I also felt that I wanted a platform that would help me connect to the public in a more impactful way.”

She was then accepted by the Centre-Fuge Public Art Project. She said she learned on the go.

Painting has been Salgar’s livelihood for the past six years. She wouldn’t trade the freedom and independence for anything, she said.

That she is a woman muralist working on this tribute to women is special for Salgar. She is also a first-generation American; her father immigrated from Colombia and her mother, from Cuba. She worked in the fashion industry for years before taking the plunge into other visual arts.

“I don’t ever identify as a female artist, simply as an artist,” she said. “However with the subject matter being so important and relevant, it means a great deal to me. It’s hard for me to imagine a time when women weren’t seen as being qualified to vote, but I’m grateful that we were given that right under the Constitution.”

After completing this project, Salgar will go back to Miami for a few days and then travel to Indiana for another mural, then on to Iowa for one more project. She also has plans to return to NYC to paint a memorial for a friend.

Looking to history, Salgar said her heroes have always been those putting themselves in harm’s way in the name of equality for all.

“I always look up to those people who were willing to put themselves in danger and to dedicate their lives to helping others,” the artist said. “Leaders of the civil rights movement, which seems to be an ongoing battle, have always been an inspiration. It’s easy for people in a position of power or influence to live a comfortable life, but when they choose to get out in front of injustice or help people who don’t have proper representation, it says a great deal about their moral character.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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