Residents and visitors to the town of Portal over the past several months have watched a work in progress as Deena Scarborough’s art students transform a plain wall into a piece of historical art.
“They’ve been working on it for about a year,” said Larry Lanier, owner of Lanier’s IGA, the building serving as a canvas for the students’ mural depicting the town’s rich agricultural history.
Scarborough, who has taught art in Portal for 15 years, said “I’ve had my eye on that wall for a long time.” So, when it came time for her to work on her master’s degree, with a project focusing on community art, doing something with the large white wall made perfect sense.
Getting her students involved was part of the deal as well, and it was a perfect “opportunity for them to learn about Portal history,” she said.
They looked into the town’s agricultural past and realized turpentine harvesting, something the town is known for through its annual “Catface Country Turpentine Festival,” would have to play a major part in the project. So would cotton.
“If not for turpentine and cotton, (Portal) wouldn’t be here,” she said.
“The students came up with the concept and drawings and we combined them” to create the mural that is now in progress, she said.
The building that now holds the town’s bustling, family-run grocery store was once actually four different businesses, Lanier said.
It held a five and dime, a grocery store, cafetorium and hardware store. Lanier bought it in the late 1980s and built on to it, later expanding as his grocery business kept growing.
At some time the building was painted, covering an old Coca-Cola advertisement, circa 1954-55, he said. When Scarborough and her students began sandblasting the building in preparation for the mural, they discovered the forgotten piece of history on what was once Reddick’s Five and Dime, she said.
This caused a temporary halt to the project while everyone discussed what to do.
“A lot of people protested painting over it,” Scarborough said. The eventual decision was to go forward with the community art project.
Funded by a grant of $1,000 from the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education, Scarborough and students finished the sandblasting and preparation and laid out the design, painting tall pines and people working in cotton fields. The wall will be covered in grout and tiles, creating a mosaic similar to several already in place inside Portal Middle High School, she said.
Scarborough is grateful for the encouragement she has received regarding the project.
“The Laniers have been so supportive,” she said. “We worked every Saturday we could,” and even spent time dodging bad weather over the recent spring break, working on the mural. When the weather is very cold or wet, work cannot be done, she said.
“The kids are so eager to do something for the community, to make something that will last,” she said. “They can go back and see it and say ‘look at what we made.’”
Portal Heritage Society President Timothy Cook praised the project and efforts of Scarborough and her students.
“I think the art work is a beautiful (portrayal of) the history of Portal,” he said. “It means a lot to the Portal Heritage Society because it represents the (E.C. Carter) turpentine still and how the tar is collected and how turpentine is made.”
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.