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Artist talks vision behind mural in downtown Arkadelphia

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

There’s a new splash of color in downtown Arkadelphia.

On the eastern side of the old Sav U Mor building, on Main Street, is a large mural whose centerpiece is a tribal style badger surrounded by flowers and butterflies. Searcy artist Jason White, founder of White’s Artworks, is responsible for this latest creation.

“I wanted something different, not just a traditional school logo, so I just had a little fun with it.”

— Jason White, muralist

Using low-pressure spray paints, White began work on the mural first thing Friday morning ahead of the weekend’s Festival of the Arts. He worked throughout the festival as part of its live entertainment. About 20 hours into the project Monday morning, White was wrapping up the work and projected to finish by day’s end.

Jason White works Monday morning to fill in portions of the mural in downtown Arkadelphia. | The Arkadelphian/Joel Phelps

Funded mainly by Southern Bancorp and The Ross Foundation — with the rest of the funding from fees of festival vendors — White was given creative control over the Arkadelphia mural. “They told me to be creative,” said White, who’s been painting murals throughout Arkansas for seven years. The one request was to incorporate an Arkadelphia High School Badger into the mural. “I just kind of ran with that,” White said. “I wanted something different, not just a traditional school logo, so I just had a little fun with it.”

White’s rendition of a badger is far from the Arkadelphia High School logo so many are used to. This black-and-white badger is done in tribal style and — some residents have argued — looks even more vicious than the athletic program’s badger. The purplish hues surrounding it are also a creative liberty White took. “There’s all of this color and brightness that surrounds it,” he said. 

White has painted murals in many other Arkansas towns. In the southern region, he was most recently tasked with mural design and creation in Fordyce, Warren, Dumas and McGehee. In McGehee, White incorporated all of that community’s elements into a piece that included rail, agriculture and local fixtures painted over a background of the cypress swamp that is Wiley A. McGehee Park.

In addition to the latest mural in downtown Arkadelphia, White’s Artworks paints murals throughout Arkansas. The one pictured, in McGehee, incorporated the community’s agriculture and railroad proximity. | Courtesy image/White’s Artworks

“I try to tell the history of the town, or create cool photo opportunities for the community,” White said. “I get to go into new communities, learn their history and see the old buildings and houses.” Locals never cease to take note of the stranger painting large images on an old building in their town. Often someone’s curiosity leads to conversation. “It never fails to have someone stop by,” White said. “Art reaches everybody. Everybody responds to art, one way or another. Just meeting the people is the best part of doing this.”

Arkadelphia was no exception. During the festival, young and old alike stopped by to talk with White, and many even lent a hand, using White’s direction to fill in areas with paint. “If someone feels like they’re an artist, I definitely want to encourage that,” he said, noting that many artists have the tendency to freeze up out of fear from others’ judgment. “If I can help teach kids to overcome that fear early, then they can open themselves up to doing what they want to do and be who they want to be.”

The new mural is in good company. Facing it one block to the east on the Honeycomb restaurant wall is the “Journey from a Dream to the Promise” mural, a 2012 project by artist Dave Loewenstein depicting the many facets of the Arkadelphia community and its people. Also visible and nearby, to the north, is another Loewenstein mural of artwork created by Group Living Inc. resident and artist Sammy Landers.

“It’s a cool community,” White said of Arkadelphia. “I’ve had a blast down here. Driving in [from Interstate 30], I love that the initial introduction is country — beautiful landscapes and fields — then coming through the college area that opens up to a cool downtown. I feel like [Arkadelphia] truly has a lot to offer.”

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