We admit to being a bit nonplussed when we heard Wendell town commissioners were going to consider a mural that depicted a 70-foot-long tobacco worm along the side of a prominent downtown building. With Wendell’s historical roots in tobacco, did we really need to prominently feature a bug that did almost as much damage to our main cash crop as the government did?
We also admit we had our minds changed when we heard the impassioned plea from muralist Michael Brown, who was seeking the town board’s approval for the mural.
Brown argued that art should be fun. His argument before commissioners brought smiles to the faces of those in the audience and he made his proposal sound fun.
In the days since commissioners approved the project, we’ve heard from people in both camps. Some wonder who in the world is paying for a big bug to be painted on the side of the building.
Others agree that the presentation is more cute than accurate and the project’s other features – notably a method for preserving the region’s tobacco heritage – outweigh the fact that the mural is not more pastoral in nature.
We are reminded of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s reference to pornography when he said “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” The argument here isn’t about pornography, of course, but what constitutes art.
We tend to believe art should be fun. It should entertain us and capture our attention and make us think.
That tobacco worm, despite what it meant to countless farmhands who plucked them off tobacco leaves in hot eastern Wake County fields, makes us think about a part of our past that shouldn’t be lost.