As 2022 dawns, professional artist David Boatwright is slated to begin work on the second mural project paid for and overseen by the Bulloch County Historical Society to fill a highly visible wall in downtown Statesboro.
It was Boatwright and fellow artist Michael Kuffel, both from Charleston, South Carolina, who in early 2020 painted “The Fabulous Fifty of 1906” on the wall of 48 East Main Street facing the drive-thru side of Statesboro City Hall. That mural depicts the Dec. 2, 1906, return by train of the delegation that secured for Statesboro the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, which grew through other identities to become Georgia Southern University.
For its second mural project, the Historical Society has worked with the university’s Sociology and Anthropology Department to reach much farther into the past of what is now Bulloch County, explained the society’s executive director, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters. The planned set of five paintings on the west-facing wall of the Averitt Center for the Arts facility at 41 West Main St., the side that includes the Whitaker Black Box Theater entrance, will depict Native Americans of the Late Archaic Period, 2,000 to 4,000 years ago.
“I think that all of us are very pleased with our first mural in downtown Statesboro, and we wanted the second one to be in downtown Statesboro, for obvious reasons,” Waters told Statesboro City Council. “That first mural did address something that changed all our lives, and that was getting the college and then the university here, but I think one area of our history that’s been severely overlooked is the original inhabitants of this area, and we’re addressing that.”
The Archaic Period peoples were not the same as the later Native Americans of the Mississippian culture who built structures such as the Ocmulgee Mounds at Macon and were the ancestors of the Muscogee, or Creek, tribes. But from research done by the Sociology and Anthropology Department over the past three years, the Archaic Period, during which the indigenous people made and used spears but not yet bows and arrows, is understood to have been one of the most active times in the prehistory of this part of Georgia, she said.
Waters presented the mayor and council five illustrations representing the mural panels, but which she indicated were not Boatwright’s guiding originals but “Photoshopped” concept pictures. He will be guided by more accurate information received directly from working with the Georgia Southern researchers, Waters said.
Life along rivers
One of the concept pictures shows Archaic Period people catching fish by using baskets and a weir, or fish trap, made of staves set into a riverbed to form a partly circular enclosure with an upstream opening. Another of the images shows individuals emptying baskets on a midden, or debris pile, made up mainly of shells from freshwater mussels, which were another important food source. In the background of this picture are people doing other tasks, such as cooking over a fire in front of hut-like homes. Other images show dugout canoes being made and poled along a blackwater stream and another view of village activities.
The exterior wall of 41 West Main on which the murals are to be painted has several column-like raised vertical elements, dividing it into segments. Five of the wall segments contain small windows, and the murals will be painted underneath the windows, Waters said in an interview.
Because of the size of the mural plan, a city law variance was required. In fact, a current Statesboro ordinance limits murals to just 25% of a single façade of a building. But city staff members recommended approval of the variance with a single condition, that the final specifications be reviewed and approved by city staff. The city Planning Commission by a 5-0 vote on Dec. 7 recommended approval, and City Council, by a 4-0 vote, approved the variance Dec. 21.
“This project is blessed by the Georgia and the National Council of American Indian Relations,” Waters told Statesboro’s mayor and council. “This is big. So, when we have our dedication, there are going to be people flying in from Washington because we’ve broken ground on this Archaic group here.”
She noted that the Bulloch County Historical Society had already spent $3,200 to have the wall covered with a base coat of a paint, appropriate to hold mural paints, in a shade called camelhair. For painting the actual mural, the society is paying Boatwright $25,000 – Waters said this is a base price, so the final cost would be at least that – and he is expected to complete the artwork in about six weeks.
Boatwright is slated to arrive in town Sunday and begin work Monday, Jan. 3, Waters said. She has a friend providing free lodging for the artist or artists.
After the mural is complete, a large bronze plaque made by the company International Bronze will affixed to the building, with text giving information on the Archaic Period people of the area, Waters said.
So, it’s about a $30,000 project overall. The Historical Society’s main funding source for all of its projects is the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation. With nearly 400 members now, the society also raises between $30,000 and $40,000 a year in membership dues.
Averitt Center site
Besides collaboration with Georgia Southern University researchers, the project of course involves cooperation with the Averitt Center for the Arts. The Averitt Center’s current board president, Kelly Berry, has served on the Bulloch County Historical Society board, and Waters now serves on the Averitt Center board.
In a phone interview, the Averitt Center’s executive director, Rahn Hutcheson, said the base coat already improved the wall and he’s excited to see what Boatwright will add.
“He did such a fantastic job on that 1906 mural that we’re looking for something really, really interesting and cool on this building site,” Hutcheson said. “You know, that area’s been just dormant and vacant for so long, and I think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
He noted that the wall is visible from the Statesboro Post Office, as well as to drivers approaching from the west and south.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful spot for something that is educational, and I know that’s what the Historical Society tries to do,” Hutcheson said.