A ‘great’ mural

Published 10:54 pm Friday, March 30, 2012

Artist spent two years developing Great Wall mural for university

When Hope Brannon was asked if she could paint a mural depicting the Great Wall of China, her immediate answer was “Of course, I can.”

Brannon received the commission to create a mural that would stretch across 75 feet and up more than seven feet as a welcome to the Troy University’s Confucius Institute.

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Brannon, a highly acclaimed Alabama artist whose resume includes several murals, received her master’s in art education from Troy University and was the choice to create a mural to distinguish the Confucius Institute.

Brannon was not on hand when the mural was installed and saw it for the first time, along with visiting Chinese dignitaries, who attended the dedication of the Confucius Institute on Thursday.

“I’m thrilled,” Brannon said. “I’m seeing the mural for the first time and it is thrilling. I don’t know any other way to express my feelings right now.”

For Brannon, the journey from the commission to the viewing was a long one – two years to be exact.

“To prepare myself to do the mural, I first went out and bought 10 books,” Brannon said. “Some of them were history books about China as a walled city. Others were pictorials. And, of course, I found a lot of valuable information on the Internet.

“The Great Wall is 4,000 miles long. Some of it is in ruins; parts have been rebuilt and parts have been restored. Four thousands miles … and I had to decided what to put on the mural and what to leave out. I guess you could say I slept with China for two years.”

Brannon said she even dreamed that she was physically placing bricks in the Great Wall.

Sleep-building the Great Wall was an arduous task and one not nearly as rewarding as the labor of love in creating the Great Wall for a great purpose and at a great university.

Brannon said it was an honor for her to be commissioned for the mural project and she wanted her passion for the project to be evident in the final work.

The process for the creation of the mural took a lot of experimentation.

“The mural was done in four panels, which were pencil drawings,” Brannon said. “To get the effect that I wanted I used Photoshop. You can’t be an artist these days and not use Photoshop.

“Chinese art is beautifully subtle. I wanted the mural to have the romantic lines of Old China, so I used soft lines and sepia tones. Everything was done with the Great Wall in mind.”

The mural of China stretches from East to West and begins with the Old Dragon Head.

“The Wall is like a huge dragon, bending its head to take a sip of water from the sea,” Brannon said. “From there, the Wall makes its way into the Yanshan Mountains. The Great Wall is not always a continuous wall. It was built at different times by different dynasties for defense.”

The Wall makes its way through Huangyaguan, where cliffs are allowed to be a part of the defense.

There the Wall is called the “Wild Wall” because it is not restored.

“The Wanjinglou Tower is the highest point in that area and it is said that from there you can watch Beijing,” Brannon said.

“The Wall then makes it way to Jinshanling and the Mandarian Duck Lake, which in the spring is cold on one side and warm on the other. The cold side can actually have ice while the other side is warm. That’s amazing.”

From there to Jiankou and Juyongguan Pass and the virtual castle at Badaling that has three interconnecting towers. Further up the wall is the Princess Pass, which was defended by lady warriors who rode horses and carried swords.

“The Wall then moves into the high plains desert,” Brannon said. “There are great expanses of sand with an oasis springing up every now and then. In this area is the Jiayugan Pass, which because of its majestic grandeur and supreme splendor is call the ‘Impregnable Fortress under Heaven.’”

In this far Western reach of the Great Wall is Yumenguan Pass that was an important pass on China’s Silk Road, the route of early international trade.

“There was so much to learn about China and I found it so very interesting,” Brannon said.

“But there was only so much that I could include on the mural. I wanted the mural to be a journey along the Great Wall of China and one that would give those who view it a sense of feeling about the country and its remarkable history.”

Brannon’s artwork had to be transferred from the four small panels, which traced the Great Wall of China from the sea through the mountains to its final resting place in the high desert plains of the West, to the mural’s final resting place at the Confucius Institute at Troy University.

Brannon was not at Bibb Graves Hall when the mural was installed; therefore, she had the thrill of walking in Thursday and seeing what she had created, as if for first time.

And, it was a feeling that she can’t describe but one she’ll never forget.