UNC Press takes a field trip to see SERVICE

On July 26, a mural named SERVICE was dedicated at UNC’s School of Government in the Knapp-Sanders Building. The mural, depicting a gathering of African-American leaders at the counter of a diner, was painted by Colin Quashie as a creative interpretation of the historical 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in. We will be featuring each of the eight panels in a series, highlighting some of the people represented.

Since we introduced our blog series about the SERVICE mural a few weeks ago, we needed to go see the mural for ourselves. A small group of us from UNC Press took a short walk on a hot day over to UNC’s School of Government, located in the Knapp-Sanders Building on the perimeter of UNC’s campus.

Founding of the University of North Carolina - Francis Vandeveer Kughler, artist (image from UNC School of Government)

We were greeted by Ann Simpson, the SOG’s Associate Dean for Development and Communications and photographer featured in three UNC Press books by her husband Bland, Into the Sound Country, The Great Dismal and The Inner Islands.  She began our tour by showing us the inspiration for the newest installment of art.

The School of Government houses several murals from a series commissioned in the 1950s that depicts the history and growth of North Carolina. These 11-foot tall murals, however, are not very representative of North Carolina at all.  There was a stark lack of diversity in all of the panels; while the artist portrayed dozens of people, the number of non-Caucasians could be counted on two hands.

When extensive renovations to the School of Government were completed in 2004, administrators decided to re-hang some of the 1950s murals and commission four new works to give a more complete history of the state. Years of historical research, fundraising, and creativity later, the first of the new works, SERVICE, by Colin Quashie, was finally revealed.

Ann took us downstairs to see the new mural, stretched 50 feet along a wall right at the door to the often frequented dining hall, in a space the artist chose himself.

Ann Simpson explaining how the 5' x 50' SERVICE mural was attached to the wall

Using the menu-like informational guides provided at the mural site, we were able to see which African American leaders were depicted in each panel, as well as an explanation of the symbolism scattered through the painting.  The subjects, gathered around a diner counter, are dressed in modern clothing in order to make the painting more cohesive.  The four men standing in white chef’s coats are the students, portrayed at an older age, who led the 1960s Greensboro sit-in.  Ann explained that Quashie even painted on the coffee mugs in the mural the logos of local schools whose students had joined in solidarity with the Greensboro sit-in students. From the newspapers depicting historical civil rights events to the pink carnations (a flower of remembrance) on the plates of unnamed slaves, the mural was captivating in its detail.

Ann was an exceptional tour guide, and we can’t thank her and the School of Government enough for having us, and, more important, for bringing a fuller portrayal of North Carolina history into view on its walls.

Check back next week for a special guest post by author David Cecelski, author of The Waterman’s Song and coauthor of Democracy Betrayed, as we reach our discussion of the third panel, Menhaden Fishing Fleet and Chanteymen. To see all our posts on the SERVICE mural, click here.