Mural created at Suffolk YMCA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Over the past few weeks, Carole Harrell has turned the Suffolk YMCA into her own personal canvas.

&uot;I’ve loved to paint and draw since I was a child,&uot; said the Isle of Wight resident.

Back in 1979, however, her interests went to another area of art, working on an apprenticeship at the Gloucester Pottery, preparing clay figures for visitors. After about a year, she opened up a studio in Isle of Wight, and spent the next decade shaping clay figures.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;I did functional pottery,&uot; she said. &uot;I did things like dinnerware and bake ware. I never treated my art as a big business. I do the work, I enjoy the work, and I stay until the work in done.&uot;

Her interest was refocused on painting in 1996, when she began volunteering to help teach art at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. At this point, Harrell, who left NSA in 2002,

started working on the large drawings known as murals.

&uot;I never had much experience doing big work,&uot; she said. &uot;I loved to paint and draw, so I had those skills already; it was just about making them bigger.&uot;

The Greenbrier YMCA discovered Harrell’s talent in 2002, and had her put her signature artistic look to its spinning room, childcare center, pool room, lobby and other areas. Then, she began working in local homes.

&uot;A lot of parents from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy has seen what I’d done with their children’s work,&uot; she said. &uot;Usually, when I go into a home, people know what direction they want to go.

&uot;They’ve given thought to what they want.&uot;

She painted many landscape scenes on walls around the area. Then in mid-June, she received a phone call saying that the Suffolk YMCA wanted to see her skills.

&uot;It was the first time I’d ever come here,&uot; she said Monday, at an office at the Godwin Boulevard facility. &uot;We walked through, and they identified the areas they wanted painted.

&uot;They told me they wanted the history of Suffolk as a theme. They wanted to introduce people who were from Suffolk to the city’s history.&uot;

Just as she does before any job, Harrell sketched out what she wanted. She prepared a drawing on a board and checked out the scale of the walls.

&uot;Some of the area was very chopped up,&uot; she said. &uot;There was a big door here, an alarm box, a lot of things I had to make work.&uot;

Eventually, the painting began.

&uot;When I get involved with a project,&uot; she said, &uot;I eat it and sleep it. As I go along, things change. I have to have it visually pleasing as well as accurate.&uot;

Over the next few weeks, her acrylic work started to come together. She painted several pictures of Mr. Peanut. Renditions of Riddick’s Folly and Constant’s Wharf went up behind the front desk. Across the top of the work sprung small pictures of the Dismal Swamp, Virginia Hams, and other nearby landmarks.

Stepping through the doors to come to work each morning, fitness director Shannon Newbill gets her own visual education of Suffolk’s history.

&uot;I wanted to see what was coming the next day,&uot; said Newbill, who moved to Suffolk back in May. &uot;What was coming next? What part of Suffolk would I learn about? I learned about some building near my home. (The mural) is gorgeous. It adds pride and history to the Y.&uot;

After completing one last frame of the mural, Harrell is going to paint around the Y’s skylight and the walls and doors.

&uot;I’m pleased,&uot; she said. &uot;I want to see the product.

&uot;I don’t stop something until I’m 100 percent pleased. I want everything to work well together.&uot;