Salisbury native oversees large-scale street mural in Greenville

Published 12:05 am Sunday, January 3, 2021

GREENVILLE — A Salisbury native’s latest large-scale project is now emblazoned across West First Street in Greenville.

The mural, reading “UNITE AGAINST RACISM,” is the product of a collaboration between a number of artists to fill the letters with images.

Randall Leach, the Salisbury native who led the project, is no stranger to the logistics of large-scale, public art projects. But on this project, he coordinated the team, obtained the supplies and made sure logistics were taken care of. He also contributed part of a letter.

“You have to have a permit. You have to have proper safety materials,” Leach said.

The mural was painted with traffic-grade paint, the same kind used to line streets and containing an additive so tires can get traction on the surface. That restricted the colors artists started with to primary colors and black and white as well.

This was his first mural in Greenville. Planning began in June, and it was finished in December.

Leach knew he would need to take on a managerial role and could not just sit down and paint.

The Salisbury High School graduate has never shied away from going big. He was involved in several murals projects in Durham.

Leach studied painting at Appalachian State University and went on to earn a master’s from East Carolina University. He stayed in Greenville and is now a high school art teacher.

Leach said the impetus for the project started with someone saying they were going to paint “Black Lives Matter” in the streets, but the city intervened and wanted to turn this into an official public art project. The proposal was funneled to the city council for approval, which made some amendments to the text and ultimately voted to approve the project with the message “unite against racism” in a split 4-3 vote.

Leach said the change resulted in public outcry, but the artists still wanted to paint. So they went ahead with the mural even though the wording was not what was originally wanted. The contents painted inside each letter was still at the discretion of the artist.

Leach said he is happy with the art itself and how it turned out, but was disappointed in the decision from the council.

Leach said it was a difficult decision to push through and paint after the original message was shot down and changed by people other than the artists and the Black community.

“These are the reasons why Black people are crying out, because of situations like this,” Leach said.

Leach’s mother, Cindy Leach-Stevenson, said his interest in art started to grow when he attended Knox Middle School.

“Somebody recognized his talent,” Cindy said.

When he decided to become an art teacher, that was no surprise.

“Randy is one of those people when you meet him you just automatically fall in love with him,” Cindy said. I knew he would do great being a teacher and being concerned about kids.”

Randy also credits the impact made on him by his high school art teachers Frank Saunders and Joel Smeltzer.

Cindy, unsurprisingly, is Randy’s biggest fan, but said beyond being his mother she sees talent in him and the ability to accomplish things she has not seen other people do.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

email author More by Carl