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Mural Honoring Jonesville Now On Display At WKU's Kentucky Museum

Colin Jackson

A new mural on Western Kentucky University's campus is honoring the legacy of a historic Black neighborhood in Bowling Green. Currently on display at the Kentucky Museum, the opening coincides with the return of students to WKU for the beginning of the fall semester.

The fresco-style installation is a collaboration between WKU Professor Michael Nichols, local artist Alice Gatewood Waddell, and students Aisha Salifu and Riley O’Loane.

It's a time-honored way of working that artists have used in classic works like the Sistine Chapel.

"It requires that artists paint into wet plaster, and if they do that the pigment they put on to the permanently locked into the plaster. And it lasts as long as the wall does because it’s not a skin on the wall like most paint, like that’s just latex on metal that will eventually peel off, it’s actually part of the plaster,” Nichols said.

In this case, the fresco mural in the lobby of the Kentucky Museum will honor the historic Black Jonesville community that had stood since the early days following the American Civil War.

In the 1960s, what was then Western Kentucky State College had the neighborhood condemned and torn down to make way for what's now E.A. Diddle Arena, Houchens & L.T. Smith Stadium, and the Downing Student Union, among other parts of campus.

Waddell, who designed and is helping paint the piece, said she envisions the mural as a community service.

"It’s hard to tell the whole story in one piece of art, so you try to get as much symbolism in the work as possible, so that whoever’s looking at it can imagine—can use their imagination as far as what’s going on,” Waddell said.

The fresco itself features a faceless couple hugging in the foreground. At first, it may seem like a loving embrace. But then, one starts to notice the suitcase the woman is holding.

To their left, a girl and a boy, both wearing white, stand against a cloudy sky pointing uphill. Meanwhile, a Jonesville sign sits in the background, and a WKU flag flies in the upper right hand corner amid darkening clouds. Then, there are the sunflowers.

“Sunflowers actually exist in the neighborhood and the community, as far as I can remember. And sunflowers to me represent just livelihood and a happy environment," Waddell said. 

She said it was important for her to represent the livelihood of Jonesville because not much exists today to memorialize the once-thriving neighborhood. There's a historical marker and displays in the nearby African American Museum, but that's largely it.

Kentucky Museum Director Brent Bjorkman says the goal was to have something emblematic of the community.

"Certainly, Jonesville is a story that just has never been told in the right way. It's been something that's...perhaps it's beng a little bit ashamed of, or just haven't dealt with," Bjorkman said.

He said he sees the installation as a conversation starter to spark dialogue about Jonesville.

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