The art course adds a massive agricultural mural to the Alabama Museum

OPELIKA, Alaba (AP) – Thanks to art students from Auburn, the Opelika Museum of East Alabama now has a second mural that recognizes the region’s rich agricultural history and contributions.

A class of 13 students and three engaged artists painted a mural as part of a semester project led by Wendy DesChene, a professor of art at Auburn University. The class began a mural in January and recently completed a work of art.

Elements of the mural include Booker T. Whatley and George Washington Carver, professors of agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. Whatley was known for developing techniques such as drip irrigation, while Carver became internationally recognized for promoting peanut butter.

“That’s why there’s peanuts (on the mural),” DesChene said through a laugh. “Everything is worse for a reason, except maybe cows … and chickens; in a way, they represent all the cute animals on the farm. ”

She described the artwork as the largest outdoor mural she has ever worked on, and the class put it together like a jigsaw puzzle after painting it in sections on 16 different boards made of a material DesChene called “mural fabric”.

“Sometimes the plaque was here, and then the plaque that would go right next to it would be in another room,” DesChene said. “We’d use things like the look of Instagram to try to make sure everyone’s okay.”

Myra Stephenson, a graduate of art from Auburn University in 2021 with a concentration in painting, was among the artists who collaborated with the class.

“It was really fun to work with other people and see them grow as artists,” Stephenson said. “A lot of these people have never painted before… so seeing them paint for the first time and being able to do things with their hands is fun to watch.”

She said that her favorite elements of the mural are the dress she painted on one side of the canvas, as well as the outline of a peacock in a vintage “peacock” advertisement.

“It’s fun to think that something you’ve touched or worked on will be there for who knows how long and how many people will see it,” Stephenson said.


Auburn Center for the Arts and Humanities Caroline Marshall Draughon led the funding of the art effort, planning a project totaling $ 20,000 for a 35-foot-long and 14-foot-tall mural provided it is completed in one semester.

“Our center has had the honor of supporting this project with Professor DesChene and her students,” said Mark Wilson, director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center. “I think being able to do that, especially within a semester, is pretty noteworthy.”

Glenn Buxton, director and curator of the East Alabama Museum, said the mural has been waiting a long time. Originally, the art was to occupy a wall on Avenue A, which painted an art class in Auburn under the guidance of visiting New York artist Esteban del Valle.

“They went in and finished the walls, set up the grille, they already had paint here and they had their cranes up there for painting,” Buxton said. “And when they got ready to start, COVID hit and the university shut everything down.”

The museum has since had Georgia artist Chris Johnson Columbus paint a mural on the wall in honor of other local historical figures and industry, which he completed in March on the other side of the museum. But in the fall of 2021, the opportunity arose again for Auburn students to contribute when Buxton was informed that the university still had money to fund a mural for the museum. In return, he informed the university that a small pavilion had been built for Old Nancy, a 1904 Case steam traction machine that the museum had recently received as a donation.

“I said it would be ideal to turn it into an agricultural exhibit and it would be nice to have a mural on that wall,” Buxton said. “Wendy came with her class, and I took them through the museum and told them the things I imagined (being in a mural), but it was up to them to figure out what it would look like.”

DesChene said the final design was to be paired with Old Nancy colors, which arrived shortly after the class began painting.

“Our color scheme is based on Old Nancy looking the best it can, so it has a lot of black, it has accents of red and green,” DesChene said. “Old Nancy has been used as a sawmill generator for a long time, and of course, the material is very important for this area. So everything on the mural has something to do with (East Alabama). ”

The mural may have been a means for students to improve their painting skills with public art, but those involved in the project say its goal was also to create interaction between Auburn students and their community.

“We always want to have as many projects (as possible) where students and community members can benefit from each other,” Wilson said. “There is no better way to do this than to give students a real-world opportunity to convince themselves to gain their own vision of what public art and community art can be.”

Stephenson said the project was a great way for her and current students to donate to the museum while learning about history.

“It’s fun to think that something you’ve touched or worked on will be there who knows how long and (who) knows how many people will see it,” she said. “It was really great to see it all together because you don’t really think about how farming everything is while you’re here because Auburn is becoming such an apartment business.”

The city of Opelika will mark the mural at a May 12 ceremony at the East Alabama Museum, and the public will be invited to attend and enjoy free food and drink. The ceremony will also recognize Johnson’s mural on the side of the A Avenue Museum.

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