CAROLINA BEACH — The Carolina Beach Mural Project is set to unveil work at its fourth location, SeaWitch Café and Tiki Bar, on Apr. 12, 6 p.m. North Carolina-based artist Sharon Dowell’s graphic illustration will honor the island’s love for beach music.
Dowell was chosen among 11 artists who applied for consideration over the winter. The focus of the mural is Carolina Beach as a destination for beach music from as early as the 1940s. Known to always attract shag dancers, the area also hosts the annual Beach Music Festival. Dowell said she was surprised to learn during her research there is a difference between shag (based in rhythm and blues) and beach music (which tends to be more pop-oriented).
“I really loved the old historical photos of the Ferris wheel, the boardwalk, all those kind of classic Carolina Beach things,” she said of her research process. “Oh, and I learned about the hermit. I didn’t know about him and Fort Fisher.”
The hermit, Robert Harrill, didn’t make it into her mural, as Dowell focused on beach music 45s, silhouettes of musicians playing, and audiences dancing. She chose a color palette of nautical blues, pale and sea-foam greens, plus purple and white. She said the flow of the piece matches the color scheme of SeaWitch, even if unintentionally.
“I think maybe that happened subconsciously,” Dowell said. “The background has all these kinds of big white stripes, and they’re abstract and meant to capture that hustle and bustle of the beach, and they also kind of mimic palm trees a little bit.”
Dowell’s work can be seen nationally — she juggles multiple projects simultaneously — in Denver, Chicago, Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte. She has done sculptural pieces, like designing bike racks in Boulder, and streetscape improvements that take multiple years to finish.
“I’ve enrolled in designing art for two bus shelters [in Raleigh] that are going to be built next year, as well as a sculpture with a bench that will be kind of like a trailhead, where people drop in their kayaks. It’s right at the Neuse River, so it’s really just like a greenway,” Dowell said.
She has murals located on various restaurants, much like SeaWitch, including 800 Degrees in Charlotte, where she currently resides. Dowell also has worked for city governments, including Rock Hill – whose arts council contracted her to do a York County mural – and Concord, where she painted a historical mural for the city.
“I usually work with photographs when I’m sketching, and do it digitally in Photoshop,” Dowell said. “So it’s great because you can just layer things on top of one another, and my work is very layered.”
She projects the image on the wall and outlines it in chalk before filling it with paint. She began working on the SeaWitch mural on Easter Sunday and finished Sunday night, a week later.
“I paint one color at a time,” she said. “It just goes a lot faster. So I started doing that every day last week, with the goal of, ‘OK, I’m gonna try to get all this color done today’ — and spacing it out and checking the weather to make sure I could get it all done in time.”
The end result is “Record Weekend.”
“Her mural truly showcases the Beach Music Festival, which would have celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2020,” Andrea Cannistraci, a spokesperson for the Carolina Beach Mural Project, wrote in an email.
The pandemic prevented the concert from happening last year, but Carolina Beach officials announced last week its return, slated for Aug. 14, 2021. The festival will feature Jim Quick and Coastline, The Band of Oz and Blackwater Rhythm and Blues.
First, however, Beach Music Hall of Famers Band of Oz will play tonight at the SeaWitch at the reveal of Dowell’s mural. The ticketed event acts as a fundraiser for the mural project, which has completed three murals on Carolina Beach so far, with seven scheduled.
“A mural costs between $4,500 and $15,000, depending on size of the wall, difficulty of the wall and subject to be painted, artist experience, and condition of the wall,” Cannistraci explained. “The cost of prepping the wall and maintenance also factors in the overall expense.”
Dowell’s mural measures 12-feet-by-25-feet.
“Sharon did an incredible job,” Cannistraci said, “depicting [beach music] on a wall of an establishment that is known for its live music.”
The project’s first three murals have been completed since last fall. The first is located at city hall and, according to Cannistraci, was a joint effort. Volunteers from within the community painted “Welcome to Carolina Beach,” designed to look like an old postcard by island resident and artist Susan Nuttal.
The second mural was done on the side wall of The Veggie Wagon at 608 S Lake Park Blvd. with the theme “Surf and See.” Cannistraci said the mural project committee decides the themes and chooses artists based on applications received for each mural. They determine where the murals are placed by which businesses want to participate and align the content of the murals with the history and culture of the island.
“The [Veggie Wagon] building was once a busy bait shop used by locals and tourists,” Cannistraci said. “Prior, it was Robbie Johnson’s surf shop (he began Surf Carolina Magazine and is a noted wildlife photographer). The artist is Carla Garrison-Mattos.”
The third mural, “Carolina’ Dreamin,” located at Crush N Grind at 7 Harper Ave., was created by Jason Parker.
“The mural depicts waking up to an amazing sunrise, the smell of suntan lotion, surfing the waves, the sand dunes,” Cannistraci explained.
Project number five is already in the works as well. It will include imagery of the fun had on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, likely containing images of “amusement, carnival, and fireworks,” according to Cannistraci. “The location is the west-facing walls of Hurricane’s Alley on the boardwalk. You can expect to see a mural that depicts the excitement of the boardwalk on a hot summer evening. The artist will be announced any day now, and the mural unveiling will be in early June.”
Tonight’s celebration runs $40 a ticket and includes live music from Band of Oz, as well as heavy hors d’oeuvre from SeaWitch. VIP tickets also are available, which include reserved stage-side tables, and when two are bought, a bottle of champagne. All money goes back into funding the project’s upcoming murals.
“Public art attracts new businesses, helps bring customers to pre-exisiting locations, and boosts the economy of an area,” Cannistraci said.
“Public art is a lot about reflecting a place and illustrating a community,” Dowell said. “So, yeah, I feel like I’ve been living the dream.”
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