Need to get out of the house for a bit? Well, maybe it’s time to hit the trail. The Appalachian Mural Trail, that is.
The trail showcases public cultural art murals that tell the stories and share the beauty of the Appalachian region. The trail weaves together stories from Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, while serving up a driving trip through some of the region’s most beautiful and scenic areas.
With over 100 cultural public art murals showcased, muraltrail.com enhances the experience by sharing the inspiring stories behind the art, information about the artists who created them, visuals of the murals themselves, and map directions to go see the art in person.
Some of the newest murals added to the trail are located in Mountain City, Tennessee, which offers an eye-opening mural walk through its downtown where musical history runs as deep as the hills. You can follow a series of 11 murals that tell the story of Johnson County’s rich musical heritage.
Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Clint Howard, Doc Watson, G.B. Grayson and Fiddling Fred Price are just a few of the musical heroes honored in the inspirational heritage murals. Price and Howard formed a group with Ashley, which was discovered by folklorist Ralph Rinzler. They knew a young guitar picker named Doc Watson, who was playing on the streets in Boone and together the group hit the road. Among their many show dates were the University of California, the Pete Seeger Show, the Newport Folk Festival, and Carnegie Hall in New York City. Ashley popularized the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” during the Folk Revival of the 1960s and first recorded “House of the Rising Sun” back in 1928. It was one of the most influential albums in the folk revival and Doc Watson’s first recording. It was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2013, along with Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Everybody loves train songs, and they certainly found their way into the repertoire of Johnson County’s musicians. “Train 45” was one of Grayson’s biggest hits. Watson, Price and Howard recorded “New River Train.” In their younger days, Ashley and Grayson spent a lot of time buskin’ at train stations and in the coalfields.
The featured mural depicts the capture of the infamous outlaw, Tom Dooley, who was captured in Johnson County on the banks of Doe Creek. Blind fiddler G.B. Grayson recorded the earliest version of “The Ballad of Tom Dooley” back in 1929. The mural, painted by Cristy Dunn, depicts Colonel James Grayson with a rock in one hand and a pistol in the other. Legend is he arrested Dooley with the rock and held the pistol on the North Carolina posse to keep them from hanging him on the spot. He made sure Dooley (actually Tom Dula) got home safely for a fair trial. The man painted on the brick is Frank Grayson, a beloved fiddle player and the nephew of Col. Grayson.
Dunn, who is executive director of the Johnson County Center for the Arts and lead artist for the 11 murals, knows the power of the arts to uplift the human spirit.
“When someone sees my work, I want them to feel a connection to the sacredness within us all. My grandfather was a fiddler, and his music held the power to transform the greatest of life’s hardships. Somehow, through his music, he taught me the same,” Dunn said.
“I began to paint at a very young age. I remember being swept away by the process of creating when the adversity of life became nearly unbearable. These murals sparked a revival of interest in the history and music of Johnson County and tell our community’s collective story while celebrating a rich heritage that was nearly forgotten.”
The Mountain City Musical Mural Walk begins a line of murals on the Appalachian Mural Trail that continues on to St. Paul, Virginia, then to Marion, Virginia, where “The Song of the Mountains” mural tells the story of local mountain music. North of St. Paul, in Coeburn, travelers will find The Crooked Road musical murals. While traveling through Wise County, visitors can take in a master work of art in the historical Wise Inn in the town of Wise and the New Deal Post Office mural in Appalachia.
Take mile marker 294 off the Blue Ridge Parkway north to Boone (where you can stop and view the New Deal Mural, “Daniel Boone On a Hunting Trip”) and up to Mountain City to begin this journey through scenic and artistic beauty. Go to muraltrail.com to read about the murals located along the trail and find directions to some of these hidden gems.