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These Gainesville groups have begun mural project along Midtown Greenway
Karen Hawk paints the first strokes on a recreation of her mural originally put up on the OddFellows Building in 1974. Painting for the new mural began on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at the Midtown Greenway in Gainesville. - photo by Nathan Berg
With one stroke of Karen Hawk’s paint brush, history came to life Thursday morning at the Midtown Greenway in Gainesville.  

Hawk, a former art student at what was then called North Georgia College & State University and is now the University of North Georgia, is the original designer of a mural painted in 1974 on the OddFellows Building on Athens/Sycamore Street as a bicentennial project of what was then the Gainesville Arts Council. The building was later demolished to make way for an expansion of E.E. Butler Parkway, but the Vision 2030 Public Art Committee, along with Hawk and others are recreating the mural on a building at the Midtown Greenway, with painting just getting underway on Thursday, June 25.  

Volunteers from the Gents Club, Hispanic Alliance GA, Beulah Rucker Museum Mentors and Mentees, the Black History Society as well as members of the Vision 2030 Public Art Committee and students from UNG are working to complete the project, which is expected to be finished by Saturday, weather permitting.  

From left, Tim Mize, Karen Hawk and Nathaniel Shelton help paint a recreation of Hawk's mural originally put up on the OddFellows Building in 1974. Painting for the new mural began on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at the Midtown Greenway in Gainesville. - photo by Nathan Berg
Hawk’s design, which was based in part on the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” includes the colors red, yellow, black and white, and is meant to represent the melting pot of American cultures, according to Hawk.  

“I think it’s really good timing for this sentiment to be brought out,” she said. “It takes all of us to paint and put it up on the wall, and it takes all of us to be a country.” 

The mural’s design began as a doodle Hawk made as a college junior in 1974 that caught the eye of one of her art professors. She and the professor worked to find a building on which to display the design, and once a location for the mural had been identified, Hawk received help painting it from an unlikely source.  

The Gents Club was a group organized by Nathaniel Shelton, a former Butler High School science and math teacher. Shelton brought together 13 boys "who people didn’t want to deal with” to form the club and started getting them involved in community service projects. The group did everything from raking leaves to putting on pageants, and when Shelton heard about the planned mural project, he was quick to get the Gents Club involved. 

Shelton, along with a few former members of the Gents Club, came out Thursday to be a part of the new project. As he painted the very same design he and his club helped put up nearly 50 years ago, memories of Gents Club activities started to flood back to him.  

“It was a learning process for the kids,” Shelton said. “As well as it was an experience of what the community was like, and the people in the community getting a chance to know these kids.” 

The re-creation of the mural started to come together around a year ago when Frank Norton Jr., chair of Vision 2030 Public Art Committee, discovered a black-and-white photo of the mural on a Facebook page dedicated to Gainesville history.  

After doing some research, Norton contacted Hawk about the project, and things started to get underway.  

Fox Gradin, an artist born and raised in Gainesville who also studied art at NGCSU, recreated an outline of the mural earlier this month. Gradin said it took her about 14 total hours to get the outline of the mural drawn and ready for volunteers to paint.  

In addition to Hawk, Shelton and Gents Club member Tim Mize were among the first people to start adding color to the mural. Mize said he was excited to get involved with the project, partly because he did not get to help with the original mural since it was put up during football season, when he was too busy to participate, and partly because he supports the mural’s message of unity.  

“It’s just time for people to come together,” he said. “Because I don’t want my kids to grow up going through the same thing I went through, and they don’t want their kids to do the same thing. It’s time for black, white, brown, any race to get together and be a part of this that’s going on right now.”