Kentucky Museum fresco mural depicts demolition of Jonesville

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Alice Waddel comes from a long line of family members with roots grounded in Jonesville, Kentucky. Her mother, grandparents, and even great grandparents built their life around the town… a town that once demolished in the 60’s to make room for Western Kentucky University’s campus became nothing more than a memory for people like Waddel. 

Life went on, and Waddel became practicing artist across the country for over 40 years. In the end, her heartstrings pulled her back towards Bowling Green where she continued her artistry for eight years, the destruction of her hometown a distant fragment of her life.

One day early this year, The Kentucky Museum reached out to Waddel, asking her to design a mural for the wall. The only parameter they gave here was to showcase the relationship between the university and the Bowling Green community.

Of course, the memory of her childhood town was the first thing that came to mind.

Waddel said, “[Jonesville] was a thriving neighborhood, and it was a place that people enjoyed living. They were satisfied living there. To have to leave the neighborhood was a very unpleasant and unfair experience.”

Every brushstroke in the mural’s design is symbolic of her childhood town. 

“Two of the images are people leaving the community. The other images are children that always wondered what was going on at the top of the hill, why they were not included in that part of the neighborhood,” said Waddel. “The sky is gray and it’s moving. It’s like dark clouds moving over the neighborhood, and that’s the change that was taking place in the neighborhood and the demolition of the neighborhood,” she continued.

In the midst of the pain in this painting there’s always a little bit of light trapped inside the darkness. As for the sunflowers in this painting? They were part of the towns history. Even more than that, Waddel said, “Sunflowers make people happy.”

Waddel isn’t alone bringing this history to life. She’s been joined by WKU art professor Mike Nichols and two students receiving internships for their services. 

Mike Nichols has served the university for about 17 years now, and when the museum reached out to him in January to design this fresco, he was more than willing to embrace the challenge. 

Nichols specializes in fresco painting, famously used by Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. The technique uses soft, colored limestone as its painting medium-a technique that dates back over 10,000 years. 

He said unlike oil or acrylic paints which will eventually separate from the wall with time, this fresco is here to stay as long as the wall itself.

“It will last song is the actual wall last itself. Which is a beautiful thing, because of the story of Jonesville, that fresco is this permanent medium that’s lacking in this sort of memory of this town in place, said Nichols.

Waddel began drafting her mural in April at the same time as Nichols prepared the wall. All these months later, the crew said that they expect to finish painting the fresco mural by the end of the week. 

Part of that crew is 18-year-old Aisha Salifu. She’s a bio-chemistry major at WKU with a passion for painting-passion currently fueled by the idea of illustrating the truth.

“To have the opportunity to express the meaning of what this piece means and why we are bringing the message to the light of the people, because it’s not something that is talk about everyday life, and I think it should be,” said Salifu.

Waddel said, “You have to accept the truth in order to make change.”