“The Circus Comes to Town”

Colossal, gigantic and thrilling are words that describe the childlike feelings of when a circus comes to town. These days the circus rarely comes, especially parading through main street America. Yet in Martinsville, Virginia, the circus comes through town every day, complete with elephants.

Just over the North Carolina line north of Eden, Martinsville is home to the eternal circus; a gigantic historical Circus Mural on the wall of New College Institute’s King Building. Any day of the year anyone can walk by and experience those special feelings over & over again. John Stiles, graphic designer and artist, used a contemporary style to design the mural based on a picture owned by Dr. Mervyn and Virginia King. The mural shows a parade of elephants and other performers advertising the arrival of a circus in Martinsville around 1920.

The artist who painted this unusual mural is just as unique as t he mural; Jessie Ward. A third-generation farrier, Ward grew up wanting to follow her father and brother to the forge and become a blacksmith.

“A lot of people thought it was so cute and funny; when I was little I would say I’m gonna shoe
horses. But that was all that I knew when I was growing up,” the 41-year-artist and farrier said. Ward now splits her time between shoeing horses and producing oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings. She also works with stained glass and has created exquisitely detailed etchings, batiks, printmaking, and free-standing and wall-hung sculptures. She just recently completed a 600 pound “Love” public art sculpture completely constructed with horse shoes for her town of Martinsville.

The Circus Mural is just one of the many thrilling acts in town, and the Appalachian Mural Trail
has taken note, adding three of Martinsville’s public art murals to its growing trail of cultural murals. ‘The Baldwin Block Canvases” are three outdoor murals on the Market Street side of the Baldwin Building, just a short walk from the Circus Mural.

Artist Amanda Honore’ Donley and representatives of NCF and NCI consulted with staff and board members of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) who recalled the vibrant African American community that inhabited the Baldwin Block during the early 1900s. Their guidance provided inspiration for the these cultural murals.

Also added to the mural trail is Old Glory, by renowned artist Scott LoBaido, whose stunning depictions of the American flag can be seen all across America. He used his patriotic artistry to create, Old Glory, an awe inspiring American flag mural on the outer wall of TheatreWorks in Uptown Martinsville. 

Words can give you a glimpse of these colossal works of art, yet the feelings of being awestruck
can only come when you stand in front and experience the circus, the art and the beauty of this unique town. While you’re there, stay and hike the nature trails, ride the rivers and enjoy those childlike feelings again.

For more information go to muraltrail.com ,where you can find directions, preview the art and read more about the mural artists.

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