All photos by Kim McKinney
Housed at the Statesville Civic Center, downtown at the corner of South Center Street and West Front Street, is a beautiful fresco called "Images at the Crossroads”. The fresco is the work of talented fresco artist Ben Long, who grew up in Statesville.
I was fascinated when Long was painting the fresco about 15 years ago and would stop by often to watch its progress. Even now I love to stop by periodically and notice new layers of life portrayed. I smile at some of the local figures he has incorporated and wonder about the identity of some of the others.
Long attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied Creative Writing. After university Long moved to New York City to further his study in fine arts. Long then served two tours of duty as a Marine in Vietnam, after which he spent time in Italy learning the art of fresco as a student of internationally reknown artist Pietro Annigoni. After nine years in Italy, Long moved to France for fourteen years, going between Paris and the Gard region of Provence, working on his art.
Fresco is a technique where sand and lime are combined and applied to a surface. The artist paints on this base when it is still wet. From my non-artist perspective, instead of texture you most notice the colors and dimension. Michelangelo used this same fresco technique when he panted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The total process is a long one. Long’s team began preparing the wall in the Civic Center about a year in advance of him starting to paint.
Two interstates cross through Statesville, NC, interstates 40 and 77. Many who travel through town know Statesville for being the crossroads of these interstates. Even before the interstates Statesville served as the crossroads for pioneer travelers. Long used this as his inspiration for the fresco he painted for his hometown.
At the very top of the fresco is a crossroads sign that shows the name of God in four languages - Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and Egyptian.
At the center of the fresco is the goddess of the crossroads Hecate, three images looking in different directions. In the center image Hecate has her hand to her heart, signaling arrival.
Surrounding are different scenes of people and life. People and communities often come to crossroads where decisions have to be made. These decisions determine our future.
On his website, in describing the Statesville fresco, Long says "Life at a crossroads is life at a point where choices are to be made – choices that involve love or hatred, justice or injustice, gossip or truth, mercy or malice, wealth or poverty, happiness or sadness, even life or death. All of these elements of life are found in the fresco and it is the artist’s desire is that you find them for yourself."
Ben Long has created many other beautiful frescos are found throughout the state. Several are found in Charlotte, while others can be viewed in the North Carolina mountains. The Benjamin Long Fresco Trail is a good day trip for art lovers traveling around North Carolina.
The Statesville fresco "Images at the Crossroads" is open to the public during Civic Center public hours. Make sure you don’t miss the hallway signs that give information on Long, the fresco process, and the Statesville fresco, in particular. It will make you appreciate the art even more.
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