Ferris mural apparently will stay|[5/09/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Notions of moving the first mural painted on the floodwall at City Front are fading fast, with plans shifting to a visual barrier to distinguish it from the historic panels painted north and south of it since.

No decision has been made, but Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said Monday he had been deluged with about 60 e-mails opposing the idea of repainting the bright, stylized mural by Vicksburg artist Martha Ferris across Levee Street in the new Vicksburg Art Park.

That would have freed four more panels for the series of portrait-like panels, each of which depicts specific aspects of local history.

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&#8220We’re going to see if we can come up with a way to design borders that will make Martha’s mural look different than the others,” Leyens said. &#8220We would maybe put an art sign that says ‘Welcome to Catfish Row’ – to visually separate it.”

Eighteen of the floodwall’s panels have been filled by Lafayette, La., artist Robert Dafford. Nellie Caldwell, chairman of the volunteer committee, which has raised $15,000 for each panel, almost all from private sources, approached city officials last week to ask about their intentions.

She said the committee wanted to know whether to plan to use the space for an unbroken line of Dafford murals or not. If so, they would have spaces for 22 murals, four of which have already been completed. If not, the north section would have 18, too.

She also contacted Ferris, who responded that her mural, funded by the City of Vicksburg and a Mississippi Arts Commission grant, should remain.

Ferris said Monday she was pleased the city is apparently dropping the idea of any move.

&#8220I would never give permission to have anyone paint over my mural,” she said. &#8220The same goes for Robert Dafford. If anyone proposed to paint over his murals, I would fight for his right to have his work preserved and protected.”

Caldwell, who has spearheaded the historic mural project over the past five years, said there was never any intention to cause tension or controversy.

&#8220That meeting was simply to find out if the city had any plans for what to do about the mural,” Caldwell said today.

Leyens said he will meet with Caldwell, Dafford and Ferris to discuss a resolution later this week. A date for the meeting has not yet been set.

Ferris said she is interested in discussing the possibility with Caldwell, Leyens and Dafford.

&#8220We’ll see – I’m always happy to collaborate.”

The Vicksburg Post has also received about 50 letters to the editor opposing any change to the Ferris mural, including letters from New York, England and Australia. The first of the letters appear today.

The floodwall was built and is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It fronts most of the length of the Yazoo Diversion Canal and the project to decorate it is through Corps permission granted to the City of Vicksburg. The Mayor and Aldermen have veto authority over the work of the volunteer mural committee.

The project is part of an ongoing transformation of the area. The steamboat-themed art park was completed in 2005, a transportation museum is planned for the Levee Street Depot and about half the congressional funding has been obtained for a Corps of Engineers museum that will detail river navigation and flood control and include display of the MV Mississippi, a retired Corps flagship.

When the future of the Ferris mural was raised, Leyens encouraged the mural committee to resolve the issue with Ferris without the board &#8220getting in the middle.” Caldwell responded the committee would leave any decision up to the Mayor and Board of Alderman.

Regardless of who makes any decision, Ferris is determined that a resolution will be made.

&#8220I believe this will work out peacefully and amicably for everyone,” she said.

Historian and author David Cohn is credited with writing in 1935 that, &#8220The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel (in Memphis) and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.”

While Catfish Row is not a precise location, City Front was once the heart of the commerce in Vicksburg, with packet boats berthing daily.