High school teacher paints mural to honor Smarr, Georgia
During the summer’s first heat wave, Katie Rowland went out and painted the town.
It took lots of brushes and every primary color on her sweaty pallet. She watched the sun come up over Smarr every morning and slide behind the tall trees every evening.
It was a labor of love, and plenty of friends and family were there to help. When she brushed the final strokes across the bricks two weeks later, she stepped back and admired her work of art — a 260-square-foot mural depicting life in Smarr on the side of an old feed and seed store.
Folks in Forsyth are known as Forsythians. Down the road in Macon, they are called Maconites.
In tiny Smarr, they proudly refer to themselves as “Smarrtians,’’ although it’s a place more down to Earth than out of this world.
Smarr is an unincorporated community in Monroe County, so nobody knows exactly how many people live there. Katie’s father, Eddie Rowland, a county commissioner, estimated the population at about 300 — not counting all the dogs, cats and cows.
He laughed and said it may have doubled since Katie’s mural made its debut in early June.
“Now, everybody wants to be a Smarrtian,’’ Eddie said.
Katie is in her fourth year as a Spanish teacher at Mary Persons High School, her alma mater. She started as a biology major at Berry College, where she played softball, then transferred to UGA and switched her major to Spanish.
She took art as an elective at UGA, which sparked her creative passion for painting. She was particularly proud of her artwork of the famous arches at the front of the campus in Athens, as well as the chapel bell tower.
She was fascinated with buildings and other architectural structures. She now draws local houses as gifts at closing for clients of her mother, Kathy Rowland, a local real estate agent.
Two years ago, with encouragement from her father, she completed a painting of Smarr, depicting buildings, landscapes and icons from different eras. She sold prints to help fund a mission trip to Puerto Rico for the Mary Persons chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
It also was the start of something big. Really big.
Her dad suggested she paint a mural on the side of the brick building at the corner of Evans and Rumble Road in downtown Smarr. (Actually, there is no “downtown” Smarr. But, if there was, this would be in the central business district — across the road from Mount Zion United Methodist Church and the confluence of Rumble Road with U.S. 41 and the railroad tracks.) It’s about a half-mile from the Rowland’s home.
They contacted the owner of the building, Jonathan Banks, and Katie went to work. They pressure-washed the 10x26 wall, then primed the brick. She used her original painting of Smarr as a blueprint.
“It was kind of like a paint by number,’’ she said. “We got out there one night and drew all the black lines around the buildings. We had the basic structure and then filled in with blocks of color.’’
The scale was different, so she had to make adjustments and add several elements. Among the ones she chose to feature was the “Smarr Rock.’’ It was dedicated to the town’s founder, William Smarr, who was there when the first train stopped on Dec. 10, 1838. With the help of local historians, Katie came up with additional ways to honor both the past and the present.
There were other challenges besides the heat — having to paint on a ladder and trying to capture details on a rough, brick surface.
Her parents were her first lieutenants, and other volunteers embraced the 150-hour project. About a dozen people contributed to the artwork. Several curious folks pulled over to ask questions and take photographs. One man stopped on his way to the recycling center, and Katie enlisted his two young daughters to help paint sunflowers on the wall.
“I was the conductor, but it was great having all that help,’’ she said. “I was not the only person working on it because it was too much of an undertaking. I never knew just doing a mural would turn into so much community involvement and a beautiful space for people enjoy. That has been the best part during the process — getting to meet people and giving them something to be proud of.’’
The mural is bold, bright and, many would say, authentic.
“I have had people tell me they thought it was a different road,’’ Katie said. “They said it’s like a new road popped up and looked so real they wanted to turn down that road.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.