GIBSON, Ga. — A year ago it was a wall, a blank expanse of rust-colored brick at the corner of Gibson’s Main Street and the Grange Road that few gave a first glance, let alone a second.
Today it is a symbol of all the things the people of Glascock County value about living in one of the smallest, least populated and most rural counties in Georgia. Today, and for years to come, it is art.
For the better part of four months, Michelle Rabun and her mother, Sherri Horton, fought heat and cold and one of rainiest seasons in recent years to transform the side of Gibson’s City Hall into a mural.
Matt Swint, a teacher at Glascock County Consolidated School, said the project was really nine years in the making. He first conceived of it as a class project but had no idea, nor funding to make it happen. Last year he was encouraged to apply for a Bothhaus Grant for the project for his history class and the school’s art classes.
Once they were approved for the grant, Swint said they were off and running.
The overall goal, he said, was to promote hometown pride, give students an outlet to show their skills and promote good citizenship.
Swint engaged the talents of Rabun, a local artist with family ties to Glascock County, to help make their vision a reality.
“The whole purpose of the mural was to show what the county was all about,” Rabun said. “There were a ton of things they wanted to incorporate. It was really hard figuring out a design that could incorporate all that, that made sense and flowed.”
Patriotism, volunteerism, agriculture, team sports, outdoor activities, spirituality … as the list grew, Rabun said the concept for the mural got more complex.
“Being that it was a grant for my U.S. History and the art class we wanted to cover some aspects of the standards,” Swint said. “Obviously nationalism and American pride were a central theme, and we had four basic ideas that we wanted to encompass in the mural. The rustic flag was for patriotism and to salute our military past and present, the deputies and fireman hats were to honor our local volunteer firefighters and servicemen who do so much for our community. The barn was to embrace our agricultural heritage here in Glascock County. The fourth idea was to include the school since we were students and it is a huge part of our community.”
Students and volunteers from the school helped prime the wall and trace in some outside lines in the first few weeks.
“Phase 1 included the outline of the county with all the cities in place, the flag and they wanted some kind of tribute to the volunteer firefighters and law enforcement,” Rabun said. “They also wanted something that represented agriculture in the county. That’s when we did the field and the barn.
"They also wanted wildlife included, so we added a deer and a turkey.”
She said phase 1 came together pretty quickly and was completed in about a month. Phase 2 was a lot more detailed and with the inclement weather, it took another three months.
“They wanted to incorporate the school and the pond where all of the students take an annual fishing field trip,” Rabun said. “They wanted a school bus and to add a tractor in the barn. They wanted all the sports and something with graduation and the school logo. And there were a couple of dogs they wanted … then they wanted a fish.”
While the first phase was paid for with the grant, when they realized they wanted to add more, Swint said a group of volunteers led by City Clerk Brandi Rabun Pritchett began collecting donations from local businesses and individuals.
Rabun said it’s the biggest single image she has ever worked on.
“I’ve done walls in people’s homes and stuff, but never anything like this, nothing this big outside like this,” Rabun said. “It was an adventure just trying to keep things proportional when you’re working in this size. We kept having to step back and compare.”
Rabun said they struggled with the sun, which, when it cleared the buildings, created a glare and dried the paint too fast.
Then, during a cold snap, there were days when the wall was so cold the paint would not dry and would run. Then there were both Rabun’s and Horton’s fears of heights.
“Eventually we got over that, but at first we were hugging the wall,” Rabun said. “Thank God they found ladders with rails on them.”
Throughout the process, Rabun said they were blown away by the comments and support of people who stopped by to comment on the project.
“Everyone has been so excited and told us how much it means to the city, how it has helped bring downtown to life,” Horton said.
“Everybody was so friendly,” Rabun said. “I thought I was going to work on a Saturday up there, but apparently everybody is out and about on Saturdays. Everybody wanted to stop and talk, wanted to know all about it. Everybody was so friendly and excited about it. It helps you to keep going when you get frustrated with what you’re doing.”
“Responses have been awesome from donors to citizens to even churches being thankful for the project and student effort,” he said. “People have been praising Michelle on social media as well and she deserves it.
“When we started, I was hoping for something decent that students could work on and take pride in, but I didn’t know if we could pull it off. Michelle and her mom took this project head on. We gave her ideas, sometimes too many and very vague, and she literally brought them to life. I am extremely thankful to the students, community and Michelle for their effort.”