Vandal scratches into mural

Published 12:13 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

Though it can’t be detected except upon walking up to the Riverfront Mural Project, a vandal has etched the name “Mario” into one of the 32 depictions of scenes and figures from Vicksburg history that line the City Front floodwall.

The scrawling measures roughly 3 by 7 inches and mars the mural celebrating native bluesman Willie Dixon and the Vicksburg musical tradition that he exemplified.

The mural’s defacing was the second bout of vandalism reported in the downtown area this week. About $800 in damage was reported in broken windows at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

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The mural vandalism was reported to police by Nellie Caldwell, who chaired the committee that coordinated the mural project and disbanded after the works were completed in 2009. Caldwell said she first noticed the vandalism when she was touring the area with her husband, Dean, earlier this week in search of areas where the paint needed touching up.

“This is the very first and, I hope, the very last of this,” Caldwell said.

She said the damage to the mural might be repaired by Benny Graef and Herb Roe, a pair of Lafayette, La.-based artists scheduled to arrive in Vicksburg within the next month to paint a mural celebrating the Run Thru History on the Grove Street floodwall between Levee and Washington streets. She was uncertain how much, if anything, the artists would charge. Graef and Roe were part of the team that completed the existing murals under the leadership of fellow Lafayette artist Robert Dafford.

Dedicated in 2007 and sponsored by Ray and Nancy Neilsen, the vandalized mural features a full-length image of Dixon holding a bass, which he played to accompany many of the more than 500 songs he penned throughout his career. The setting of the mural is The Blue Room, a former Vicksburg nightclub where blues and jazz artists from across the state and region came to perform. An image of the Red Tops, the city’s legendary dance band, is also part of the mural’s depiction of the city’s musical heritage.

The scene cost about $16,500 to complete, Caldwell said.

Sgt. Larry Burns of the Vicksburg Police Department, who surveyed the area with Officer Kevin Leem on Wednesday, said police might ask the city to add security cameras to City Front to prevent further vandalism. While cameras currently beam scenes from the Art Park and Splash Fountain at Catfish Row to police headquarters, they provide only “limited” coverage of the adjacent mural project, Burns said.

“It would probably be a good suggestion to have some sort of surveillance, because of the historical and monetary value of this area,” Burns said.

Caldwell said she liked the idea.

“This is Vicksburg’s wall,” she said, “and everyone needs to have a part in protecting it.”