BEEBE When community organizer Melba Brackin had an idea for a mural, it wasn’t long before she was knocking on the door of art professor Thomas Fernandez to see if he’d paint it.
The two met at his Arkansas State University-Beebe office and hit it off. Fernandez and his team completed the Brothers & Sisters mural, which honors Arkansas war veterans, in 2015. Several years later, Brackin approached Fernandez again with the idea of doing a second mural, this one commemorating the history of Beebe. At press time, work on the new mural on the Wilbur D. Mills building at 114 N. Main St. was expected to wrap up this weekend.
For both murals, the subject matter commemorates Beebe and its residents. This new effort offers re-creations of archived photos and memorabilia, which makes it a little more challenging to paint, Fernandez said.
“Melba wanted black-and-white and sepia photos included. There’s also the city perspective. It’s a larger palette than before,” he said.
Color is just one of many features involved in the second project, Brackin said. The biggest significance of the new mural is that it’s a preservation of Beebe’s history.
“I have tremendous love of history, and if we don’t record it, then it will be lost,” she said. “Children need to know about their heritage.”
Fernandez and his artist team titled the mural Our Town because it exists as an homage to the people and landmarks that give Beebe its identity.
PAINT BY NUMBERS
Weather has remained an impediment to the project’s scheduled date of completion. Originally intended to coincide with the city’s 144th birthday celebration on April 13, the painting of the mural was delayed as a result of excessive rainfall throughout April and up to late June. After a break in the rain, Fernandez and his team traded umbrellas for sunscreen and hats as they contended with midsummer heat and humidity.
Lending strokes of paint to the project is Fernandez’s wife, Irina, who offered not only artistic input but also helped with organization of the process.
“We used a paint-by-numbers system,” Irina said. “That’s how we organized the color palette — we put numbers on each color. For the rest, we just used our artistic eye.”
As for the design, Fernandez said, he and Irina spent long hours at the public library looking through archival photos for images that conveyed the story of Beebe.
As many as 10 volunteers — mostly students — have lent their efforts to the project. Fernandez also mentioned that the city of Beebe offered coolers of ice water to help keep staff and volunteers going in the 100-plus-degree temperatures.
ABOUT THE MURAL
“I began to see murals in other places, and I decided that we needed one,” Brackin said. “It’s a link to our past.”
Murals often exist as visual records of history, Brackin said. Once complete, the mural will comprise three panels that depict Beebe’s history from the time of the city’s founding in the mid-1870s. The left panel will showcase the city seal, along with a formal portrait of city founder Roswell Beebe, and an old Union Pacific train and corresponding train depot.
The middle panel scene is of Old Town Beebe, which features the historic Main Street area. The section will feature a composite scene that Thomas and Irina Fernandez constructed of Old Town Beebe as an artistic compilation of archival photos from residents. Most of the photos were found at the library.
The right panel depicts the Abbington plantation house, the oldest building in town still standing today, as well as an early scene of ASU-Beebe.