Mural, mural on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? This story may not include a fairy tale about a wicked witch or a poisonous apple, but it does involve a world-renowned artist and a community pulling all its resources to boost, attract, and celebrate art, culture, and heritage in downtown Charles Town.

Two of four public art projects being hosted by The Public Arts Committee of the C-Town Arts and Culture District this summer is the C-Town Mosaic Project, during the week of May 25-30, and the Jefferson County Community Ministries Angel Wings Mural also in May.

The C-Town Mosaic Project will involve artist Isaiah Zagar’s “mosaic tile mural”—using tiles and found objects. His latest project is a dual collaboration between him and the Charles Town community.

“The materials are collected by the community, and they make up the mural,” he explained. “The community then becomes a part of it. Especially when we add mirror, the community is reflected in the medium. In the end, my design starts it, but it comes alive with the community.”

When asked what he hopes those involved in the creation of the mosaics will take away from this experience, he said, “First, the exhilaration of the experience of making the mural. Being together—working together to accomplish the impossible. Second, hopefully, the students are then able to manifest their own projects and realize their own capabilities when it is finished.”

Clissy Funkhouser, chair of the Public Arts Committee of the C-Town Arts and Culture District, and project manager of the Mosaic Project, described how the enthusiasm of one individual brought the project to life.

“Liz Goins’ enthusiasm for Isaiah Zagar, and her passion for having his work in Charles Town, were infectious,” she said. “As soon as I met Liz last summer, she shared her vision, and I agreed. The public arts committee voted to support it, and that fall, the Jefferson Arts Council (JAC) got on board. GW Smith and the Charles Town Parks & Rec board approved having the mosaics on their buildings.”

Isaiah and his wife, Julia.

Liz Goins is not only the co-project manager of The C-Town Mosaic Project, but she’s also a professional paper artist and lives in Charles Town. She teaches bookmaking, papermaking, and paper cutting in and around West Virginia, as well as in her home-based studio. She’s also on the board of the JAC, a juried member of Over The Mountain Studio Tour, and Tamarack.

Goins was inspired to bring Zagar to Charles Town by an invitation from her sister-in-law to visit the Philadelphia Magic Gardens—which sparked a creative idea to bring a mosaic tile project to The Panhandle.

“I went and fell in love with the work and then found that one artist created this magical museum: Isaiah Zagar,” stated Goins. “I returned home and was visiting my mother in Chambersburg and was walking through their established arts district and came across two huge mosaic tile murals that looked familiar. Upon further investigation, I found out they were the works of Zagar, and thought to myself ‘… if Chambersburg can do this, so can Charles Town.”

Shifting Attitudes

Not sure how to proceed, Goins tabled the idea until she met Funkhouser, who was looking for a public art project. Goins shared her discovery, and the two shook hands and began the process. Goins then contacted Zagar, who was thrilled, and without hesitation, said yes.

“At this point, I was really unaware that Isaiah Zagar traveled around the country, as well as around the world, doing community tile mosaic murals that have indeed enlivened public spaces with colorfully stimulating and uplifting images,” Goins explained. “Not only has his work changed neighborhoods around Philadelphia and nationally, but he has transformed South Street Philadelphia into a booming arts district, bringing in galleries, restaurants, and businesses into a once less-than-desirable neighborhood.”

The two Zagar tile mosaics will ultimately end up comprising the wall of Bars and Booths (on N. Charles St.), and on the south wall of a building in Evitts Run Park on West Liberty Street. Anyone can help build the mosaics—part of the community-development focus and method of installation behind so many Isaiah Zagar murals.

The supplies and artist fees for this $22,000 project are funded in part by the JAC, Ecolab, a private anonymous donor, and community donations from both private individuals and businesses in the area.

Goins hopes that the community will have an ongoing feel of days past—when people gathered together to help one another no matter what the need.

“Already, just working towards the final component of this project, I see a shift in attitude,” she said. “Jefferson Arts Council, C-Town Arts & Culture District, Parks and Rec, Charles Town Now, politicians, artists, community businesses, as well as our diverse community, are pulling together to make this mural a success.”

Wings of Inspiration

The Jefferson County Community Ministries Angel Wings Mural was birthed at the WV Fest in June 2017. Funkhouser, in her first week as chair of the Public Arts Committee, and while walking the streets of Charles Town, was drawn to JCCM’s large blank white wall.

Mary Burns of Charles Town Now had the same idea. Because JCCM is their angel in the community, helping others in need, the concept of angel wings occurred to both Funkhouser and Burns.

“It just looked like a canvas crying out to be painted,” said Funkhouser. “Within a week, we had found volunteers to prep the wall and paint the mural. Bob Shefner and the board of JCCM enthusiastically backed the idea. The public arts committee approved it and offered some guidance on the project.”

Katie Thompson, a James Madison University graduate and resident of Charles Town since 2011, as well as Washington High School student Sikara Sokel, were commissioned to do the mural, which will face North Lawrence Street on the side of JCCM.

“Katie Nolan Thompson is a local artist and was approved by the JCCM board to do the painting,” added Funkhouser. “She is very involved in the community with various youth programs, health initiatives, and non-profit projects. She asked Sikara to assist her. Additionally, Kevin Brackens is a professional painter who is volunteering to prep the wall and do a graffiti-resistant coat to protect the mural.”

The mural will be unveiled June 16, during West Virginia Day Festival celebrations in downtown Charles Town.

For more information, visit the Ctown Arts & Culture District on Facebook, email ctownpublicart@gmail.com, or call 304-261-6238.

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