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Core Lab dome artist ready to start mural

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó Work has begun on the largest painted dome in the state and possibly in the Southeast.
Crews spent two days erecting special scaffolding inside the Core Laboratory Building at the N.C. Research Campus that will hold artist Brenda Mauney Councill 150 feet in the air as she paints fruits and vegetables on the ceiling.
Councill was in Kannapolis on Tuesday to approve the scaffold and platforms, constructed by Sunbelt Scaffolding of Charlotte. Painting the dome, which is 19 feet high and 38 feet in diameter, will take several months.
“This dome will be the largest painted dome in the state and maybe the Southeast,” said Councill, who lives and works in Blowing Rock and has a second studio in New York City.
Councill’s mural will cover 2,500 square feet, larger than the painted surface area in the capitol dome in Raleigh, she said.
The Kannapolis dome is 154 feet from the floor. Councill will take the building’s elevator to the fourth floor, then use a landing and small ladder to reach a large platform atop the major scaffolding.
Then, she will climb 20 more feet on a second, smaller scaffold to reach the top of the dome.
But she’s not complaining.
“I once had to climb a 65-foot series of ladders three to four times a day,” said Councill, who specializes in painting large murals on domed ceilings.
Councill will use an age-old process to transfer the design onto the dome. But first, drywall experts will spend at least a week preparing the ceiling in the building that will house some of the world’s finest scientific instruments when it opens this summer.
“That’s quite an important step,” she said. “They prepare the surface so that it gives me a perfect canvas, figuratively, to paint.”
The drywall experts will use a plaster-like compound to fill in any inconsistencies in the ceiling. Light would reflect even small flaws in the drywall once it is painted, Councill said.
Next week, Councill will begin transferring the design onto the dome.
Created by Arnold Savrann, longtime architect for N.C. Research Campus founder David H. Murdock, the design features a radiant sun with fruits and vegetables surrounding the perimeter of the dome, said Councill, who collaborated on the design.
An eagle painted in the center of the mural will represent Murdock, billionaire owner of Dole Food Co., the largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the world.
Councill will draw each element to scale on paper, then use a small tool to perforate the lines on her sketch.
She will use a charcoal pounce pad to transfer the design onto the ceiling, drawing over her sketch and leaving small bits of charcoal on the ceiling through the perforations.
“It’s the same process that Michelangelo used,” she said. “It has not changed in hundreds of years.”
She also will use a projector to project some elements onto the most severely curved surfaces of the dome.
“The most essential problem to solve at this stage is the perspective,” she said. “If the perspective is neglected in any way, it will be evident 90 feet below.”
Councill must worry not only about how the mural appears from the ground, but also how it looks from the second, third and fourth floors of the 311,000-square-foot Core Laboratory Building.
Councill will stand while she paints.
“People think I’m laying on my back,” she said. “There will be some odd angles that I will have to deal with, but domed ceilings are much easier to work in than ceilings. They are much more comfortable.”
She will use a specialty acrylic paint called Nova Color that features one of the highest pigment concentrations available.
The fruits and vegetables will appear realistic in color and form. In fact, the gigantic painted produce will appear life-sized from the ground.
Thibault Tosseram, a German-French artist, will assist Councill, who normally works alone.
“This project is massive,” she said.
Tosseram will help transfer the design and do much of the background painting, while Councill will focus on the detail work.
Councill will become an artist in residence, living at Murdock’s Pity Sake Lodge in Landis throughout the project. Tosseram will live in a nearby hotel.
Councill hopes a videographer will document the process, and she might even set up a live camera so people can watch her work online.
Murdock, who is building the $1.5 billion biotechnology campus on the ruins of a textile mill he once owned, hired Councill after conducting an international search.
“Mr. Murdock is delighted that we can showcase one of North Carolina’s many fine talented artists in the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building,” said Lynne Scott Safrit, president of campus developer Castle & Cook North Carolina.
Contact Emily Ford at eford@salisburypost.com.

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