A huge, bright splash of color now adorns the brick exterior of the Raleigh Convention Center in the form of a crocheted mural of singer Nina Simone.
The pink and orange mural of Simone – with the accompanying lyric “Here Comes the Sun” – was installed this weekend on the side facing South Salisbury Street by a Polish-born crochet artist named Olek.
It measures 40 feet wide and is about 20 feet high. More than 100 Triangle residents chipped in to crochet 2-foot-by-2-foot sections of it in August, including needlepoint artist Caitlin Cary. Olek assembled them this weekend.
Olek, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009, is best known for edgy “yarn bomb” installations – like covering New York City’s Wall Street Bull sculpture with pink yarn seven years ago during the economic crash.
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It’s part of a project called “Love Across the USA,” which Olek was inspired to create following January’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Simone, a North Carolina native born in Tryon, is the third mural in the series.
Her first two “Love” murals depicted suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. It was during the Tubman mural installation in Rochester, N.Y., that Olek was moved to pick Simone as her next subject.
“It was horrible weather, rain and cold, and I was playing Nina Simone’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’ on repeat,” Olek said. “And after playing that for an entire morning, the sun finally came out.”
Olek, a longtime fan of Simone’s activism as well as her music, has been listening to her since before she could even understand English. A cassette of Simone songs, given to her while she still lived in Poland, proved to be formative.
“I didn’t understand a word or know anything about her,” Olek said. “But her voice was so amazing. It really gets to your soul.”
North Carolina, as Simone’s birthplace, made sense for the mural’s location. Olek chose Raleigh because she’s worked here before, covering downtown Raleigh’s Flanders Gallery in yarn in 2012.
The Simone piece had a total budget of $29,000, with about $18,000 going to Olek, and used material donated by Red Heart Yarn, said Sarah Powers, executive director of the Office of Raleigh Arts.
Powers estimates it will be on display for three to six months, depending on how well the brightly colored pink and orange yarn holds up. To make it somewhat weather-proof, Olek’s team used less-absorbent acrylic yarn.
The mural happens to be on display during fan voting for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which runs through Dec. 5. Simone and her fellow North Carolina native Link Wray are both on the ballot this year.
A sign with the link to Hall of Fame voting accompanies the description of the project.
“I’m asking people to vote for her,” Olek said. “She’s one of the few artists I have on my phone, a song I sometimes play to get myself out of bed. ‘Ooh Child,’ that one.”