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Friday June 2nd

A peek at the faces behind iconic murals across Chapel Hill-Carrboro

<p>The "Greetings from Chapel Hill" postcard mural located behind He's Not Here, pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022.</p>
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The "Greetings from Chapel Hill" postcard mural located behind He's Not Here, pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022.

Across Chapel Hill and Carrboro, dozens of murals bring beauty to buildings' walls and attention to movements and influential figures. 

Although the current area is scattered with art, it wasn't always that way.

Michael Brown was one of the first artists to paint murals in the area. Brown said he has spent eighteen years painting murals in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. 

Completed in 2003, his latest mural in a series of annual murals depicts a "Paint by Numbers" scene. Located outside Pantana Bob’s in Chapel Hill, it exhibits the steps of making a mural from left to right.

“There’s a lot of numbers and mathematics in mural painting, with sizing and where things go, and there’s a lot of numbers in the plan that’s depicted,” Brown said.

Brown said he thinks the size and process of creating murals contribute to their power. They are large and noticeable, so their physical presence is undeniable.

However, Brown said he thinks the journey to the end product is just as powerful due to the fact that they're handmade products. 

After years of painting murals in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Brown said he enjoys seeing other artists’ work.

“At first it was just me once a year, and now there’s just wonderful stuff by brilliant artists all over town," he said.  

Scott Nurkin is one such artist. He began painting murals in the area after working as Brown’s intern. His work includes some of the most iconic murals in Chapel Hill. 

Nurkin painted the "Greetings from Chapel Hill" postcard mural behind He’s Not Here and a Dean Smith mural at the intersection of Smith Level Road and U.S. Highway 15-501.

“The day it was announced that he passed away, I went out there and just started painting,” Nurkin said. “When I was a kid, I went to UNC basketball camp from ’87 to ’91, I think, and so Dean had always been my hero." 

Currently, Nurkin is working on murals of musicians as part of the NC Musician Murals Project. 

The project began as a casual arrangement between Nurkin and the former owner of Pepper’s Pizza, which is now closed, in Chapel Hill. 

"Nurkin would create portraits of renowned NC musicians to cover a blank wall in the restaurant in exchange for 'free pizza for life,'" according to the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources website. 

Through his work for the project, Nurkin has painted murals on nine buildings across the state.

One of his murals in Chapel Hill depicts Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, a famous Carrboro musician. The mural is painted on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro line at 111 N. Merritt Mill Rd. 

Artist Matt Willey has also painted murals across Carrboro. 

He has painted murals of bees that can be found at Estes Hills Elementary and the Carrboro Fire Station. 

These murals are a part of The Good of the Hive, a project that aims to paint 50,000 honeybees, around the world. 

The Carrboro Fire Station mural was completed in 2016. Willey said he hopes that when people see the murals, they will be able to see the planet through the eyes of a honeybee. 

“The health of the bee is based on the health of the hive, not the individual bee,” Willey said. “That’s a paradigm shift that I’m trying to make for people with my work. The pandemic showed us that, but do we remember that when we go back to our normal lives?”

Willey said the goal of the project is to help people see and experience the connectedness of all things. 

@DTHCityState | 

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