For visitors to Bristol, TN/VA, one of the most popular stops is the handprinted mural depicting early country artists who had been recorded by Ralph Peer just down State Street in 1927. It adorns the side of a brick building, looking down onto the site of the Bristol Farmers Market, which has also been used as an outdoor stage through the years.
Locals have long been charmed by the mural, which measures 30 feet tall and 100 feet long, celebrating the twin city’s appellation of The Birthplace of Country Music. The name stuck after Peer’s recordings saw commercial release, making instant stars of people like Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, and The Stoneman Family. Now that the Smithsonian has built a modern Birthplace of Country Music Museum on the Virginia side, even more tourists are stopping by for a look at the painting they have seen in photographs.
But as any artwork exposed to the elements is liable, this regional icon has seen deterioration from wind, rain, and sun over the years. The Bristol, TN city council has just authorized its repainting, the second such effort since it was dedicated in 1on May 2, 1986. That grand unveiling brought a number of early country music celebrities out, including Janette and Gladys Carter, and hen-current country singer Gary Morris. Also in attendance was Cecil McClister, who had once run McClister’s Music Store in Bristol, and who was instrumental in arranging for A.P. Carter to come to record with Ralph Peer at the Bristol Sessions. After the recordings were released, A.P. would come down to the store to pick up his royalty checks, which he had mailed there.
The artist commissioned for restoration is the man who created the original, Tim White. The same Tim White we know as the host of Song of the Mountains, which beams into our living rooms each weekend on dozens of PBS television affiliates. Folks in southwestern Virginia and east Tennessee also recognize Tim as a popular bluegrass radio host, and bluegrass lovers across the southeastern US recall seeing him as a member of The VW Boys and Troublesome Hollow.
But on top of all those talents, Tim is also an accomplished painter, doing all sorts of custom work in addition to traditional lettering for signs. He painted the original on canvas, and upon approval by city officials, began the mural in April of ’86. The icons shown in the mural are Ralph Peer of Victor Music, A.P., Sara, and Mother Maybelle Carter, Nipper the Dog from the Victor Label, Ernest V. and Hattie Stoneman, and Jimmie Rodgers.
Tim tells us that he is ready to get started on this second restoration, as soon as the city completes some masonry repair, and does a pressure wash of the building.
“I refreshed the paint on it the first time in 1999. My son, Murphy, helped me on the second go-round. He was a small child in 1986, but in 1999 he was 17 years old so I put him to work. He is a really great artist, and I let him add his signature to the mural in 1999.
I plan to work on it over a time period of 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the weather.
Back in 1986 I painted it from scaffolding. I’m not as agile now, so this time I will be using a lift. I’m older and heavier, but also smarter now.
I will be using acrylic enamels on the mural. This paint holds up very well over time.”
White also shared a number of photos that those familiar with the mural will enjoy.
Good luck, Tim!