Mural complete as eagle the last piece painted in core lab’s colorful dome

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó With the completion of an 18-foot eagle, artists have finished the largest dome mural in North Carolina at the N.C. Research Campus.
After working 12- to 15-hour days, seven days a week for nearly two months, Blowing Rock artist Brenda Mauney Councill and her assistant, French artist Thibault Tosseram, descended their ladders for the last time Wednesday.
“It was physically demanding,” Councill said. “You had to stay constantly mentally alert.”
The mural depicting realistic yet mammoth fruits, vegetables and flowers covers 2,500 square feet at the top of the four-story David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building. The lettuce is 11 feet long, the pineapple 18 feet.
The artists reached the dome by taking the elevator to the fourth floor, then climbing two ladders to a large, sturdy platform built atop scaffolding 100 feet high. A smaller set of scaffolding erected on the platform allowed them to paint the highest points of the dome.
Councill draped the entrance to the scaffolding with yards of white fabric topped with pineapples, orchids and a huge “M” monogram to welcome campus founder David Murdock and his guests, including Martha Stewart, who climbed the ladders to view the dome.
Stewart, the lifestyle guru and media mogul who visited the Research Campus recently, spent 25 minutes on the platform and nicknamed the artist “Michelle-angelo,” Councill said.
Murdock insisted on signing the mural with lime green paint on a lemon. About 75 people have climbed the ladders to see the painting, including politicians, researchers and campus officials.
The public soon will be able to view it, too, when the large scaffolding is removed and the Core Lab Building opens in the fall.
The building is the centerpiece of the Research Campus, a $1.5 billion biotechnology hub dedicated to improving human health and nutrition.
Murdock owns Dole Food Co. and wanted the mural to include a variety of fruits and vegetables. His longtime California architect, Arnold Savrann of Castle & Cooke, designed the painting.
Councill, who lived in Murdock’s Rowan County lodge during her commission, said Kannapolis might become her second home.
“I plan to be back,” she said. “I want to be involved at the campus. I have some ideas for other art projects, other concepts.”
The artists had some “anxious moments,” Councill admitted, but said the project generally went smoothly.
A documentary filmed throughout the process will show “a few beads of sweat on the brow,” Councill said.
Interest from the community and campus overwhelmed the artists, they said.
“I’m thrilled when the art gets attention like this,” Councill said.
From celebrities to construction workers, everyone asked about progress on the painting, Tosseram said.
Councill’s father, the late Richard Councill, was from Salisbury. She still has a cousin living in Salisbury, Clyde Kizziah.
Murdock is developing the campus in partnership with Duke University and the University of North Carolina System on the ruins of an old textile mill he once owned.