Spotsylvania mural under scrutiny
Spotsylvania County may expand a mural in its main government building in response to criticism of the piece’s lack of diversity.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will decide whether to move forward with a proposal to add panels to the mural of Spotsylvania’s history in the Holbert Building’s meeting room.
The new images would include depictions of prominent local African–Americans and Native Americans.
“When we tour our public buildings, we need to see a representation of everybody in Spotsylvania County,” said Roger Braxton, a native Spotsylvanian who was part of a Historic Preservation Commission subcommittee that studied the issue.
In February, the commission unanimously endorsed the subcommittee’s proposal to expand the mural with six images.
The images would be placed on two blank walls at either side of the existing piece behind where Board of Supervisors members sit.
They would be drawn in a similar style as the current mural for a “seamless, timeless effect,” according to a presentation of the proposal.
It’s unclear how much the project would cost or how the county would pay for it, though Braxton said he “couldn’t imagine that Spotsylvania would vote this thing down for a couple thousand dollars.”
If the supervisors vote to proceed with the project, the county will have to solicit bids from artists.
Supervisor Paul Trampe said he thinks the mural should be paid for with reserves because it is a one-time expense.
“I am certainly in favor of having a more complete representation of Spotsylvania’s history, and I will support moving forward,” he said in an email. He said he thinks other board members will also support the proposal, noting that none had raised objections to him.
The mural currently includes images of 19th-century navigator Matthew Fontaine Maury, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gov. Alexander Spotswood, Spotsylvania’s namesake. The county paid $12,000 to have it painted by the late Sidney King in 1989.
King later added a small image of John J. Wright, who founded the first high school for the county’s black students. Residents had complained that the mural didn’t recognize the achievements of black Spotsylvanians.
Then in 2011, Virginia Organizing, a statewide grassroots group, sent the county a letter about the mural’s lack of diversity.
During county budget deliberations last year, Virginia Organizing and the Spotsylvania branch of the NAACP asked the Board of Supervisors to earmark $1,000 to expand the mural.
Supervisors didn’t fulfill the request, but Trampe asked the Historic Preservation Commission to look into the issue.
Helen Sanders, a local member of Virginia Organizing, said she’s excited by the recent proposal to expand the mural.
“There are so many stories to be told and …it just was stuck in time,” she said of the existing piece.
Braxton, who is a 1962 graduate of the then all-black John J. Wright Consolidated School and a member of the board of directors of the John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center Museum, called the project a “labor of love.”
“We need to fairly reflect who we are,” he said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Spotsylvania County’s Historic Preservation Commission recently recommended a proposal to expand the historical mural in the Holbert Building’s meeting room.
Under the proposal, six images would be placed next to the existing piece. They include depictions of:
- Joseph Despot, a minister and Spotsylvania native who was president of the Sunday School Union and an executive board member of the Mattaponi Association of Virginia.
- Jeannette Garnett Wright, who is one of the first black women in Spotsylvania to register to vote. She is the daughter of John J. Wright, who founded Spotsylvania’s first black high school.
- The 23rd United States Colored Troops with U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin Brown, who was born in Spotsylvania and received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Indian Wars. The Colored Troops fought in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
- The Sylvania/FMC cellophane plant, the region’s primary employer for 50 years.
- Gold mining.
- Everyday life of Native Americans.