Appalachian Mural Trail

            "The Sweetness of Community Spirit"

Press Release 2019
Feature Article
Doreyl Ammons Cain
Director, Appalachian Mural Trail

     Over the past 20 years small rural towns have seen their Main streets dwindle into shadows of what they were in the past. Businesses close down and areas of disrepair seem unstoppable. Yet some small mountain towns have found solutions by strengthening their community through working together to create something to be proud of.

     "When I first met Michelle Shiplet it was plain to see she was dedicated to help strengthen her town of Robbinsville, North Carolina," says Doreyl Ammons Cain, Director of the Appalachian Mural Trail. "We were meeting to discuss the Appalachian Mural Trail and how we could help Robbinsville create community murals that picture their town’s amazing history."

     Since that meeting Robbinsville is well on their way to beginning the mural process. "It is remarkable how people have gathered together and supported the mural project idea," says Michelle Shiplet.

     The Appalachian Mural Trail is inspired by the honey bee hive where all community members work together for the well being of the whole. Many of our members worked as a community to create murals that tell the story of their town. Some of the murals hold the brush strokes of dedicated townsfolk, both young and old. Mural artists rendered the sketches and communities helped paint the works of art. What has been realized is that the communities involved had a rise in local pride, the town upgraded itself more throughout and the positive economic impact was felt by everyone.

     Other murals had individual artists that were commissioned by a concerned town or townsfolk to beautify and show respect for their community. These artists went into the communities and interviewed the townsfolk and sketched out their mural concept based on the spark of true life stories. Some of these amazing murals are blocks long or hidden in bathrooms.

     Community Murals uplift the way we view our community and our culture. One of the murals now featured on the Appalachian Mural Trail was the brainstorm Holly Thomas who wished to create a large mural to feature the history of Marion and Smyth County Virginia. Holly planned it to be a community project to restore pride and hope in an area hit hard by recession. After much research she created the first rendering of the mural in the fall of 2009. She finished the final drawing in the spring of 2010. Suzy Sukle helped enlarge her drawing to scale and create a pattern. After talking with an engineer about painting the design on the brick of the local Herb House, Holly learned that the process of sealing the exterior wall for the mural would cause moisture to build up on the interior brick and damage the grout. The brick needed to remain unsealed to allow the building to breathe. He recommended a solution and that was to paint the mural on panels and attach them to firing strips that would allow a 2" airflow between the mural and the brick.

     "We wanted more than one artist to paint this mural to create community pride and ownership of the project. It was never about me as an artist, or what my vision was, but about creating a touchstone for learning and self-esteem for Smyth County and Marion," says Holly.

     Approximately 25 different volunteers took turns working on the project: school children, young Job Corp volunteers and their oldest participant, Evelyn Lawrence. In her 90s, Lawrence came and sat in a chair and painted the feathers on the hat belonging to her mother, Susie Madison Thompson, a pioneering educator in Smyth County.

     "I personally feel this is a better way to do a mural, if technical help is available for installation," Thomas says. "The reason is it allows work to continue during inclement weather and by older or handicapped individuals who cannot climb scaffolding. In addition, it cuts down project liability significantly, as it takes away not only the possibility of a volunteer falling, but also the temptation of vandalism, or climbing the scaffold when it has to remain in place for a long period of time. The joke around here is that folks said "Wait! Hold on! There wasn't a mural there yesterday,' as the mural installation went very fast ... just a few days, in fact," says Holly.

     The community mural is accompanied by a fence and benches, so people can sit and look at the mural. The fence project was a Boy Scout eagle badge project for Ferris Ellis. The front of the fence is painted as a tribute to Smyth County children and the county's heritage, and the back is painted as a tribute to Smyth County farmers. All who worked on the mural project enjoyed the challenge and working together with others in the community. Those who were retired or unemployed found purpose during those days and hope that things would improve.

     Meanwhile in Roanoke, Virginia, Nicole Harris dreamed of making the Dale Street wall in Roanoke more beautiful, she first took her ideas to Facebook, then to the Southeast Action Forum and then to Roanoke officials.

     For people driving into southeast Roanoke, the long concrete wall on Dale Avenue near 13th Street looms large, literally. The wall is 300 feet long and 10 feet high. And for years, every time Nicole Harris drove by, which is often because she lives about two blocks away, she dreamed of ways to make the space more beautiful.

     Months of planning and designing culminated when Harris and other southeast Roanoke residents made the first strokes on the wall, which turned into a community mural with the help of a coalition of local neighborhood groups and organizations.

     "This is a gateway," Harris said. "I thought it would be really cool if it represented something about the community instead of just this empty concrete wall."

     About two dozen volunteers showed up for the group’s first painting session. Working off a rough outline drawn by the mural’s artist, Scott "Toobz" Noel, volunteers started painting. Residents emphasized the neighborhood’s history, its diversity and the way it has changed over the years. From the beginning, the process has been collaborative, Harris said. She talked with members of the Southeast Action Forum, and they helped bring Roanoke staff into the planning process. The city, which owns the wall, gave its blessing for the mural and provided about $6,000 in grant funding.

     "I held a brush, I own this picture," residents said. We call that community pride!

     The Appalachian Mural Trail showcases these art works that mean so much to a community. Go to and look at 75 magnificent murals created by passionate mural artists and community groups. Find your favorite murals, create your own itinerary with directions to travel and see the murals first hand. Once you're lucky enough to be in front of a real mural, snap a 'selfie' in front of the mural and upload it to our selfie page. You'll really be lucky, for you'll receive a free tee shirt in the mail that says, "I hiked the Appalachian Mural Trail." Just like the honey bee, you will have a taste of the sweetness of community spirit!"