It was a stroke of convenience that we had a mural installation going on in Knoxville at the same time we did in Maryville, as the two cities sit just 25 minutes apart in East Tennessee and we were able to make our base right between the two. The difference was the sheer size and the amount of prep work it took to prepare the wall for the biggest, boldest mural in downtown Maryville.
How Walls for Women came to Maryville
We’ve been working with Blount Partnership on content marketing projects for five years now. The nonprofit organization oversees tourism for the county, which spans the section of the Smokies that abuts Townsend as well as the swanky Blackberry Farm, in addition to hosting events like Grains & Grits, our favorite annual whiskey gathering. The tourism director, Kim Mitchell, told us a year or two ago she really wanted to bring more art to Maryville. That sounded right up the alley of a couple mural-chasing tourism marketers I know!
Once we opened Walls for Women up to select cities in January, Kim pretty quickly brought Blount Partnership on board as one of our first partners and from there it was a matter of finding the perfect wall for such a piece. As luck would have it, Kim spoke with William Norris—owner of Bike N’ Tri and, like Kim and me, also an alum of the University of Tennessee—and he was all about it. He also has one of the biggest, most visible walls in Maryville that stands at the intersection of the downtown and Main Street district and Highway 321, which continues on into the Peaceful Side of the Smokies.
Collaborating with Kim and Will was so much fun—that’s some big orange power right there—and the logistical side of this project could not have gone more smoothly in that there were no art committees, no grouchy historic zoning commissions trying to keep the downtown in a time capsule, no one trying to dictate the content, just great humans who could not wait to see what the artist was going to create for their city. My mom’s father and his siblings grew up in Knoxville but worked at the Alcoa aluminum factory in Blount County during their younger days, so being in this part of the state always reminds me of Granddaddy.
Meeting Nicole Salgar
We found Miami artist Nicole Salgar the same way we come across so many muralists we hire: through a friend. Ivan Roque came to Manchester to paint for us two years ago, and during his week-long stay at our house told us about Nicole and how we should bring her up for a project. We started following her and immediately fell in love with her work; due to being a baby nonprofit, though, these things take time, and once we launched Walls for Women, we knew we could finally reach out to Nicole and see if she was interested in traveling to Tennessee to paint.
SVV and she hopped on Zoom in the spring, and there was an instant connection; she’s intelligent, delightful, into science fiction like he is and preaches all the same things we do: valuing artists’ time and skill, honoring the creative spirit found in all humanity, celebrating one other and teaching strangers on the internet how to be better entrepreneurs. Nicole and I recorded an Instagram Live together on some of these topics shortly after her visit, which you can watch here.
Nicole is part of a painting duo with her partner Chuck Berrett, so he came along with her to Tennessee to assist. In the future, I’d love to have the means for DMA to hire both of these artists to paint side-by-side original pieces as they often do in their travels. Each has such a unique painting style that complements the other, and they’ve done some fun combo walls of late.
Having previously worked in the fashion industry, Nicole has been a full-time muralist for six years now, traveling all over the world to paint, from Israel to New York and every small town in between. She’s a first-generation American, with her father having immigrated from Colombia and her mother from Cuba. She told The Daily Times in Maryville: “I don’t ever identify as a female artist, simply as an artist. However with the subject matter being so important and relevant, it means a great deal to me. It’s hard for me to imagine a time when women weren’t seen as being qualified to vote, but I’m grateful that we were given that right under the Constitution.”
Oh, and she’s also a skilled ninja (like, an actual martial arts expert), which is one of my favorite fun facts about her!
Prepping Nicole’s wall
The prep work required to get this wall ready for paint was pretty extensive—and we definitely could have done a whole lot more had we had the time. Here’s a look at the building Bike N’ Tri occupied before we started:
Part of our commitment to any wall host prior to a mural install is preparing the underlying surface with good quality materials and to the best of our ability; after all, we want the murals to last a decade or longer, and that can easily happen when both time and care is applied to fixing up the wall first. Being married to a painter has made me appreciate the preservative and aesthetically upgrading qualities of paint, even if there isn’t artwork overlaid on top. We believe in paint!
We were hard-pressed to finish the prep amid crazy summer storms and Nicole’s arrival time, so as it stood, we worked three full back-to-back-to-back days starting before sunrise to scrape all the loose paint and stucco, as well as give this 100-foot wall a solid, back-rolled base coat of special masonry primer and a top coat of Ravishing Coral (yes, the actual name of the color Nicole chose!).
It was one of the most physically exhausting weeks of the summer for both of us, but looking back at the before and after made all the sweat equity worth it.
The Maryville mural: Senderos
Over the course of two weeks, Nicole worked for more than 100 hours with a brush on this beauty, “Senderos” (meaning trails or paths), that sits about 100 feet wide by 35 feet tall in downtown Maryville. Here’s her description of what she painted and why:
The woman in this mural is meant to portray a gatekeeper to other dimensions or realities. Her existence is one which flows through time without boundaries. The lock and key connect to gateways, or portals into the unknown, and they can also be interpreted as a way to unlock the hidden self.
There is an archway at the center of her chest with an upward stairway and a hand which is entering the frame holds the key. I intentionally set the woman in a range of misty mountains, since the town of Maryville is situated in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. I wanted to capture the environment as if it was twilight when everything seems to be covered in a soft illuminating glow.
Ultimately, this mural is a culmination of the maternal and feminine spirit of all things, being tied together through reality, dreams, space and time. A boundless energy which makes up the entire universe.
So many small towns struggle with public art by trying to tell the artist what to do, or by creating committees with a preconceived notion of the art, and had we (or anyone) tried to steer Nicole’s process by rolling up our sleeves alongside of her, it would not have been as epic as Senderos turned out. But this mural is also a testament to a skilled muralist who incorporates her own interpretation of the spirit of the place in which she’s painting while chasing her muse—this time, the gateway to the Smokies—without anyone having to tell her to do so. Are you catching my drift?
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LET WOMEN CREATE FREELY.
*steps down from pedestal*
A huge thanks to Nicole and Chuck for spending two weeks in Maryville working through crazy elements and leaving this gift of their hearts behind; to Kim Mitchell for championing this project; to Will Norris for being down for anything; to Sunbelt Rentals for keeping us safe with the bucket lift; and to Blount Partnership for believing in art and artists. I still get warm, fuzzy feelings from this wall and all the love and collaboration that went into it.
Read about the other Walls for Women murals here:
- Walls for Women Kicks Off! Here’s Where to Find New Murals in Tennessee
- Hebe’s Mark on McMinnville, Tennessee and the Mural in Her Honor
- How a Mural is Made: The Story of “Wisteria Maiden” in Tullahoma
- Honoring Knoxville’s Place in Suffrage through Art