Murals have become an increasing popular art form in recent years. Once dismissed as a form of graffiti (which is done without permission), murals are now highly planned projects involving shop owners, community leaders, schools, and, maybe, a team of professional artists. The end result is something that enhances the area.
With this in mind, we embarked on a modest orchid mural for our 1920’s brick retail store in Richmond, Virginia. Not knowing a thing about ‘street art’, we asked a lot of questions and wondered what the neighbors thought of the idea. Without exception, they were supportive.
The focus of our orchid mural was cattleyas given their long and romantic history. They were the craze in England during the Victorian era when nearly all of the wild species were being discovered and the earliest breeding took place. From there, cattleyas migrated across the Atlantic where wealthy American Industrialists built large greenhouses, hired the best horticulturalists, and created outstanding hybrids.
The glamorous corsage days soon followed and, for the next fifty years, cattleyas were grown as cut flowers for ladies fashion. Today, it is not uncommon to find century old plants still in circulation and serious hobbyists continue to be drawn to this genus.
To help put cattleyas into context for the mural viewers, we included some aspects of natural orchid habitat such as easily recognizable tropical foliage - monstera and banana leaves. Cattleyas are native to the jungles of Central and South America where two of the species are the National Flowers of their respective countries.
Now, we had to find an artist. A number of prospective leads came and went until one day, a 25 year old waitress with a knack for drawing walked in. Jessica Peterson had never done a mural in her life but she had a background in graphic design and brought along some lovely sketches. We gave her a chance.
It readily became apparent to me that the mural business is actually hard work. Peterson came with an ‘assistant’ who power washed the wall, scraped the joints, re-pointed the bricks, and applied block-filler. All this took place before the first drop of background paint was applied.
For about three weeks in blustery weather, Peterson worked on the wall, even at night. Little by little, more detail was added and the flowers and leaves slowly took shape. I watched as passersby gathered to ask questions, take pictures, and view the progress.
Then one day, her signature appeared at the bottom. The project was complete. The young artist reflected on her inaugural mural experience as being “entirely liberating” and was moved by the realization that “every day, someone will walk past something that I created and feel something.”
For better or worse, street art is, by definition, temporary and can be redone or painted over at any time. However, I can’t imagine life without this mural. It’s a part of me now.