Downtown Reidsville has a new look. Because some of the downtown trees were in poor health and causing sidewalk problems, the City Council approved a plan to remove about half of the downtown sidewalk trees and replace them with trees in planter boxes created by Eric Smith.

These planter boxes come with an added twist, though. The large wooden boxes are adorned with the City logo, as well as unique and colorful art panels by local artist Mary ED Ryan.

The artist who created Downtown Reidsville’s newest mural, as well as numerous other art projects across the county, Ryan used wood stain to create 14 abstract panels and 14 panels depicting plants and animals of North Carolina.

“We knew that with Mary creating them, the art panels would be great,” said Missy Matthews, Market Square/Main Street Manager for the City of Reidsville. “But, they are even more amazing than we hoped.”

Working with a landscape architect to determine which trees to remove, 18 were replaced earlier this spring. In addition, two large bottle trees, crafted at Amos Welding, will be installed at the entrance to Kelly’s Way at 120 S. Scales St.

Some pruning will be done to sidewalk trees that remain, and string lights also will be installed on the sidewalk trees.

The Reidsville Downtown Corporation established Project DREAM (Downtown Reidsville Empowering Arts Movement) in 2018, and a number of public art projects downtown have been added. For example, angel wings were painted at the Rockingham County Public Library.

“City employees have told me that the uplifting messages in Gina Franco’s ‘See Good in All Things’ gives them a boost as they enter and leave the City Hall parking lot,” Matthews added. “Cities gain value through public art — cultural, social and economic value.”

Ryan applied her art to the 3/4-inch sanded plywood planters using colored wood stains, not paint. The color is absorbed into the wood and sealed with polycrylic.

“This is much more weatherproof than painted panels, and they could last for a long time,” Ryan said.

Ryan was thrilled to be a part of the project.

“I’m a huge fan of public art because it’s available for the entire community and visitors to enjoy,” she said.

Having never created stain art of the size for the panels, Ryan said the project was challenging, but she is happy with the results.

“I pushed myself hard, took chances, even experimented a bit,” she said. “I wanted to give Reidsville something to get excited about, and that’s hard because people are really down right now.”

Like Matthews, Ryan is a huge supporter of public art and sees her artistic contributions as a way to serve her community.

“It’s much harder to get public art into rural areas and small towns, yet those places get the biggest boost from it,” Ryan said. “Public art has a strong track record of helping places to recover, bring hope, energize downtown businesses, bring people back into town, attract new businesses and help the community feel good about where they live.”

As weather permits, artist Ruby Blanco will paint a mural at 138 South Scales St. on the back of the building, which faces a public parking lot. A tattoo artist, Blanco recently opened Raven’s Claw Studio on Scales Street.

“Ruby transformed utility meters in this same parking lot into a charming turtle, and we are excited to see this new mural come to life,” Matthews said.

Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at jennifer.brown@greensboro.com.

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