Most people who do well in life say they couldn’t have made it without the encouragement of an educator. Those who have aspired to achieve personal or professional greatness often did so, in part, because a teacher told them they could.
That’s the sentiment that Chancellor Philip Dubois delivered at UNC Charlotte during the dedication ceremony for the Cato Teaching Discovery Mural on April 24.
The brick mural, which consists of eight individual panels, depicts scenes from North Carolina’s and Charlotte’s history and is meant to honor educators by being used as a teaching tool. Teachers can use the murals for lessons on history, art, music, civics and math. Each one is 8 feet tall, and together, it weighs 12 tons.
Each panel has a different theme: education, gold, founding, freedom, arts and entertainment, commerce, teaching and Murphy to Manteo. Each holds images that represent some of the state and city’s most interesting and little-known facts.
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For instance, the founding panel has an image of Waightstill Avery, who was the state’s first attorney general from Charlotte and signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
“We spent a lot of time and combed through hundreds of facts and images to pick the right ones,” said Emmy Lou Burchette, president and CEO of Burchette & Associates Inc., the design company that helped create the mural concept. “We tried to pick facts that not only had beautiful imagery but were also interesting and unique.”
The artist who helped design and carve the mural, Mara Smith, said she works only in brick because she likes that her artwork can be touched and interacted with.
“(The mural) isn’t going to sit in some gallery, but will be seen every day and can be enjoyed by all walks of life,” she said. “It’s made to be touched and can withstand the interaction.”
Smith has been working exclusively with brick for 35 years and has carved 350 pieces. Her work can be seen not just in Charlotte but as far away as Seattle. She also has seven pieces listed in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art catalog.
The murals were created in her studio in Seattle, where Smith lives. It was very intricate work and took seven months to complete, she said, because each brick needed to be carved individually and then pieced back together to create one large panel.
“You’ve heard of color by number? This is brick by number,” she said. “Each brick has a number on the back so when it was dismantled for drying and transport, it could be put back together easily.”
Smith said she took the job because she felt a connection to the project.
“My first-grade teacher wrote that I should be an artist on the back of my report card,” she said. “Maybe she planted a seed that unknowingly carried with me for the rest of my life.”
The murals were funded in part by John P. Derham Cato and the Cato Foundation, and also by those who donated money to honor a teacher who inspired or changed their lives. Many of the honorees came to the unveiling of the mural on April 22 in front of the College of Education, where the murals have been placed.
One of those honorees was a couple, Rudolf and Jean Worsley, known to many of their students as Poppa and Momma Worsley. They were honored by Anthony Lowry, a student who struggled with a difficult home life and barely made it through school. He had Rudolf Worsley in the fifth grade and Jean Worsley in the 10th grade. He found both teachers to be a stable force in his unstable world.
In a letter describing why he honored them, Lowry wrote, “… They became my surrogate parents and not a moment too soon. The Worsley’s were there when I got married … when I had my two beautiful children.… None of the countless rewards I’ve received would have possible without the tireless intervention, love and support of Jean and Rudolf Worsley.”
Rudolf Worsley said he was touched by Lowry’s words. Even after his retirement in 1987, he said, he still works with young people because they need him.
“He was a special kid who just needed someone to be there for him,” he said. “I’ve worked with youth my whole life, and they really just need someone to let them know they care.”