|'Brothers and Sisters': Beebe mural honors veterans|
|Wednesday, 25 January 2017|
by Megan Ledbetter
Sometimes all it takes is the passion of one person to begin a community-wide movement. This is exactly what happened when Melba Brackin instituted the idea of creating a veterans memorial in Beebe.
In the summer of 2015, the city of Beebe funded and dedicated the “Brothers and Sisters” Memorial Wall, located on North Main Street on the northwest wall of the Wilbur D. Mills Education Service Cooperative. It measures about 83 feet wide and is from 14 feet to 23 feet in height.
Brackin and artist Thomas Fernandez, an instructor of fine arts at Arkansas State University in Beebe, met for the first time in September 2014.
“This silver-haired, spitfire walked in my office and said, ‘Mr. Fernandez, I would like you to paint a mural,’” Fernandez recalls. “Turns out she was this incredible, patriotic, civic-minded woman who is full of energy to honor this great country.”
After working on the design for several months and receiving feedback from fellow faculty members, ROTC cadets and Brackin, Fernandez presented his design and budget to the city. The Beebe City Council immediately agreed to fund the entire budget for the project.
Fernandez began the mural after sunrise each morning and worked into the afternoon. He expected the project to take at least two weeks, but due to the overwhelming amount of help and support from the community, the project only took seven days.
Although they worked during the hottest week of the summer, food, water and a canopy for shade was provided by Brackin and Kristen Boswell, executive director of the Beebe Chamber of Commerce.
The Beebe Fire Department pitched in with free power washing before the start of the project. The City of Beebe provided a bucket truck and a paint sprayer, allowing people to work on the ground level while Fernandez was working on the higher portions of the mural. Although Fernandez had never used a sprayer, it made the project much easier.
ASU Beebe provided a projector, which allowed Fernandez to project his design onto the wall at night.
The design of the mural was developed from the desire to include all ages, races, gender and religions, erasing all barriers. This was accomplished by making all the figures silhouettes, which was inspired by a photograph Fernandez saw during his research. There are soldiers representing each major conflict including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. To represent the Navy and Air Force, the mural also includes silhouettes of a C130 and the USS Arkansas.
The location was picked by Brackin due to the visibility and central location in town as well as the presence of a parking lot, allowing people to stop and admire the mural at any time.
The name of the mural emerged during the process of creating it. During one of the last afternoons of work, someone pulled over and asked if he could take a picture. Following the trend of the previous days, this was not out of the ordinary until he spoke to Fernandez.
He told Fernandez, “I just want you to know that I really appreciate this. When I see this, I see my friends and everyone right there — my brothers and sisters.” In that moment Fernandez knew that the mural should be named “Brothers and Sisters.”
After the mural was completed, Brackin planned and organized the dedication ceremony, which was held Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at Beebe’s First Baptist Church. There were area veterans, elected officials, ROTC cadets and community members present. Essay contests winners read their patriotic essays aloud, the ASU Beebe music professor sang the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful,” and Fernandez was given the key to the City of Beebe.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the community and giving back, but it was an incredible experience for me because I got to honor veterans, particularly one that helped me become an artist,” Fernandez said. “The main reason I wanted to do it was because of Herman.”
Herman was a World War II veteran and close family friend. Fernandez confesses to having mostly adult friends as a child, one of which was Herman, who taught him how to play chess and is part of the reason he is an artist today. As a child, Fernandez wanted to be an archeologist, and Herman advised him to practice his drafting skills in preparation. Fernandez eventually transitioned from receiving Indiana Jones movies to art books as gifts. Fernandez had the ability to show the mural to Herman and thank him for his service and influence in his life.
The overall reaction of the city and community has been positive, both during and after the creation of the mural.
Although this was not her first patriotic project to oversee, Brackin was exceedingly pleased with the results of the mural and the reaction by the city. “She is an incredible woman, and none of this would have happened without her,” Fernandez said of Brackin.