Tucked a mile into the woods along Sam’s Branch Greenway is the town’s most popular and competitive art project. What began as butterflies and gave way to birds will soon become fish.
Since 2013, art has been part of the trail running near the Neuse River. It began as a totem pole and a pair of butterfly-themed benches by artist Georges Le Chevallier; it has since become a changing public are project for Clayton-area students. In the first year, students painted wooden butterflies; the next, they turned their brushes on birds. This year, the theme is fish.
Former Clayton High School art teacher Jane Roberts, the project’s coordinator, showed some early designs for this year’s art project at the most recent Clayton Town Council meeting.
“Those aren’t native to the Neuse are they?” Councilman Bob Satterfield said of the brightly colored fish.
Roberts said the project has always started with wildlife that could be found along the river, then students add their own perspectives.
“We try to pick something that can be found in nature,” Roberts said. “It adds excitement to the trail – people use it as a mark to tell how far they’ve gone. Since they have to go a mile to get to them, it helps get people active and provides just a really nice wow factor.”
This year’s project, which will go on display next spring, stands to be the largest so far, with nine schools and 10 art teachers taking part. Students will design their fish on a piece of paper, and then the best from each school will become wooden paintings.
“We’re letting the teachers decide the number they’re comfortable doing with their students,” Roberts said. “This is a very, very large year.”
Roberts said she expects 100 to 150 finished works will adorn the greenway when winter gives way to spring.
“Some students see it purely as a canvas; some might paint underwater designs or trees or rainbows,” she said. “There are some elementary ones you would have thought came from the high school. There’s beauty and diversity among the designs.”
And no small amount of competition. Tyler Long, a fifth-grader at Powhatan Elementary School, accompanied Roberts to last week’s council meeting. His design for 2016 has already been selected.
“He’s a fifth-grader, so this is his last time in elementary school and his third time trying to get picked – he was so excited,” Roberts said.
A few birds from the 2015 project remain on the greenway, but in late March or early April, those will come down, and the fish will go up. In the past, the project has sold some of the works during the Millstock arts festival, with proceeds going to help fund the next project. Roberts said she feels Clayton makes a significant effort to embrace the arts – from the biggest concert to the smallest wooden butterfly.
“Clayton has always been really supportive of the arts,” she said. “It’s been a well-kept secret for a while, but people are starting to catch on and notice things going on in Clayton and move here to be closer to the arts.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson