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Bartleby Program to include downtown mural

John Thompson • Updated Sep 12, 2017 at 9:08 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The stated purpose of the XQ Super Schools Project is to re-envision the American High School for the 21st century. But the Barleby Program at Elizabethton High School, one of the 18 programs from across the nation, is also envisioning how students can help remake an aging downtown.

The very first course of the Bartleby program involves interacting with the community. From that broad start, the Bartleby students have narrowed their focus to a list of ways in which the program can help the community.

One of those was to beautify downtown Elizabethton. Student Sarrah Eggers thought the downtown area said she first thought the downtown could be improved by cleaning, planting flowers and other projects.

The idea of providing works of art to downtown Elizabethton was also discussed early in the planning stage, but Sarrah said she is not an artist and not many of the Bartleby students had the talent it would take to draw a mural.

At the very start of the school year, Sarrah decided to talk with Karen Hitchcock, co-owner with her husband, Tom, of Blue River Studio in downtown.

"Tom and I talked with Sarrah and listened to her ideas. We liked what we heard," Karen said. They provided encouragement and expert advice on what was involved in such a big project as a mural.

About the same time, Karen had a conversation with Cathy Shoun, who has owned The Dressing Room, 528 E. Elk Ave., for 20 years and for all of that time she has wanted to beautify the drab rear entrance to her store. The entrance is in a narrow alley, but it is close to the Bonnie Kate.

When Karen heard Cathy say she would like to have a mural on the back of her store, she laughed and told Cathy "Boy, have I got someone for you."

Sarrah paid a call to Cathy's store and they began discussing their ideas for a bright and colorful mural to brighten the drab alley. Cathy hoped it would be so vivid that people might come to the back of her store just to take a picture of themselves standing next to the mural.

As the ideas the class had were still being formed, Sarrah and other students decided to make sure their mural would be acceptable under the city's ordinances. They decided they needed to speak with Jon Hartman, director of planning and development for Elizabethton.

Sarrah said just setting up the meeting with a busy city official was an educational experience. On the third day of school, they met with him. The students talked with Hartman for 45 minutes and Sarrah said they received encouragement from him.

"He said alleys are usually dark and kind of scary places," Sarrah said. A bright and colorful mural could help.

Sarrah knew she would need help from the art majors at school. She pitched her idea with art teacher Lisa Malone. Soon the art department adopted the idea and Sarrah was happy to assume the role of coordinator and logistics provider.

Sarrah said the mural will require about 17 gallons of various types of exterior paint, including paint to provide a base over brick and lots of colors. The cost of all the paint, brushes and other equipment will be about $800. The Bartleby students are responsible for raising the funds.

"It's going to be a big job," Sarrah said. It will include a drawing of a tree that will be so tall it will appear to be growing though the awning.

Although she is no artist, Sarrah said in her meetings with the art students, she found out what each student was best at doing. Some are good at detail work. They were assigned to do the leafs, small animals and other fine details. For those with a talent for landscapes, she said they will paint the mountains that provide the background.

Sarrah said she hopes the project can be completed before the weather gets too cold for the paint they are using.

But first, the students have to raise the money to purchase the paint and supplies. Anyone who wishes to help may make a donation to the Bartleby Project at Elizabethton High School.

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