LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) – A new mural is catching eyes in downtown Lucedale.

The art is designed like a postcard reading “Greetings from Lucedale, est. 1901.” Each letter in Lucedale represents different aspects of George County ranging from agriculture, businesses, churches, festivals, historic landmarks, nature and schools.

“There should be something on this mural that would appeal to just about anybody and everybody,” said artist Kelly Wilkerson.

An idea was born about two years ago when Barkley and Pam Henderson noticed murals while traveling through Pensacola. They brought the idea to the city and soon a committee was formed with support from the George County Chamber of Commerce, the city, and school district.

Soon, nine local artists, all with roots in the county, were recruited and the specific design began to take shape.

“They came together, we brainstormed the idea in several different meetings and then the project started off. As it began, we realized that this was something that was special for Lucedale,” Henderson said.

Mayor Doug Lee and the city board of aldermen helped secure permission for the side of the building adjacent to the public parking lot on Main and Mill streets. The public works department painted it black and got the 4’ by 8’ wood panels and paint ready for the artists.

The panels were held at George Co. Middle School for the letters to be traced before being hauled to every corner of the county for the artists to work on them in their own homes and studios.

Time-lapse of artist Jaron Churchwell painting letter “C” depicting historic Lucedale landmarks.

Once finished, they were brought together at the new school district central office to be signed by each of the artists and committee members. The panels were then hung on the wall on Main Street, sealed to protect against weather, and covered before the public reveal.

“It ties every part of the county to it,” “We consider Lucedale, the city, kind of a central hub that everybody comes here at some point, whether it’s to watch their kids play football, whether it’s to shop here, they do everything in Lucedale.

Since the mural was unveiled during the city’s Christmas tree lighting on Monday night, other residents have expressed interest in helping to create more street art throughout the county.

“George County is very blessed with talent and I hope this is the first of many to come,” said Mayor Doug Lee. “I hope they continue to work with the city and the county to make the quality of life here in Lucedale better. I envision this corner to become a photo site for the locals and those people invested in our communities.”

Meet the artists

Each of the artists came from a unique background, many working in a different capacity in the community ranging from business owners, farmers, nurses, and teachers.

Bryan Bennett

I was born in Opp, Alabama and raised in Lucedale. I am a 2003 graduate of George County High School and a University of South Alabama alumni. I am a Nurse Practitioner by profession and an artist by passion. I always loved seeing the ceramics that my grandmother, Darlene Bennett, used to make and was inspired by her creativity. Trisha Havard was very inspirational and encouraging in her teaching and always constructive in any criticism. Also instrumental in my artistic development was the support of my parents, Curtis and Wanda Bennett. Despite lack of a clear plan, they always supported my end goals and encouraged me along the way. I started sculpting some in middle school but became passionate about it when I started carving/sculpting pumpkins 10 years ago. The pumpkins lead to wood carving, sculpting some in clay, and refining my sketches. I am married to my absolute favorite person, Amber, and we have 6 amazing children: Carlie, Parker, Ryleigh, Jasper, Annalise and Emmett. I am blessed in that they all have some form of artistic passion which allows me to spend time with them while still refining my passion in art. I am very thankful for Amber’s support and participation in my projects because, without her, my pursuit of art would not be possible.

Jaron Churchwell 

I’m a self-taught, detail-oriented painter raised in Agricola and currently living in Moss Point. I have been painting for the past 10 years and have found success in the last few years by selling my artwork online to people across the world and doing local commissions for individuals, churches, and businesses. I’m very excited to be a part of this project and have a hand in making something meaningful to the city and informative to visitors. Since the five years, I have moved away from Lucedale, I’ve always come back to visit and I’d find it even more beautiful than the last time I was there. The city and its businesses have really made wonderful progress in making Main Street a truly great place to visit, so I’m honored to have been given the chance to contribute a little more to that beauty. 

Christy Cooley

I am originally from Jackson, Tennessee.  As a pastor’s daughter, I have lived in multiple towns and cities throughout Tennessee and Mississippi. As a teenager, my first encounter with art was four years in a gifted art class at Winona High School. At 19 years old, I moved to the community of Benndale and married the love of my life, Mark. We have been married for 29 years. We now have three beautiful daughters and sons-in-law with a precious miracle grandbaby on the way. I have been employed with George County Schools for 15 years and I am currently the Art teacher at Benndale Elementary school. I have spent 10 years as a local photographer and now spend much of my time in my pottery studio. Art has always been an outlet for me and I hope that being involved in this project shows my students that you can do the things you love. God has truly blessed me with my dream job and wonderful opportunities to share my love of arts and crafts.

Jacob Havard

I was born and raised in Lucedale. I graduated from George County High School in 2006 and William Carey University with a B.A. in English and a Master of Education. I later continued my education by taking graduate art courses to receive my art endorsement. I was a former youth librarian for Jackson-George Regional Library System. I am currently in my 10th year as an educator, teaching art at George County Middle School. I also teach part-time for Pearl River Community College. I am married to my wonderful wife, Jera, and we have a beautiful daughter, Jemma, who is almost two-years-old, Jemma. We are members of Journey Community Church. My love for art can be traced back to sitting in Mrs. Trisha Havard’s art class. She helped ignite my passion for learning and teaching art, as well as fostering students to love art as well. I enjoy helping students see their potential in art, as well as letting them discover their own style.

Mallory Hoerner 

I am from the Rocky Creek community. I had a love for sketching at a very young age and developed a passion for painting in high school. I graduated from the USM College of Nursing in 2010. Shortly after starting to work as a nurse, my mother and I started a local paint party business called The Art Studio in 2011. I went to solely painting commissions during Covid, and now I mostly focus on painting family portraits as well as home, church, and barn portraits. Being assigned the religious letter for this project was very special to me. I love painting inspirational art as well as local churches in our community. I am honored to be a part of this mural project with so many other talented artists! 

Tracey Mardis 

I have been married to Kevin for over 33 years. We have three daughters- Heather (Brett) Green, Miranda (Devin) Canterbury, and Rebeckah Mardis- and are grandparents to Brody and Finley Green. We have been blessed to be a part of Lucedale for over 32 years. This is where our girls grew up, went to school, and were George County Rebels. I have worked in various positions for George County Schools over the years which has inspired my design for this mural: “Rebels”. I wanted to incorporate as many aspects of the school as possible to represent what “Once A Rebel, Always a Rebel” means to so many. George County “Rebel” pride runs deep in this community, and I hope everyone can find something that is special to them in this mural. I have discovered my love for painting over the past few years, and it has been an honor to be asked to be a part of such a wonderful community project!

Kriss Mizelle

I was born and raised in the Benndale community. At an early age, I learned to fill a void inside myself with art. Graphite drawings, sculpting and writing tales of pure imagination were all a way for me to find peace within. It wasn’t until I was in my latter twenties that I considered myself an artist. Self-taught in painting, I furthered my education at the community college in Meridian in two and three dimensional design, ceramics and photography. Being a part of the group that has created one of the first murals for downtown Lucedale holds a special meaning for me. This is my hometown, where I have been educated as an adolescent and have shared many friendships. As the county grows, I hope to be a part of future projects and dive into the vision of its people.

Dee Turner  

As a child, art has always been a great passion of mine. Ever since I can remember, I have always enjoyed and loved being creative. After having worked in an office for many years, I have been blessed to be able to pursue my passion for art as a career. Being a self-taught artist, as the years have gone by I have found my true passion to be working with watercolors. I also enjoy decorating, craft projects, graphite sketching and painting. I am a member of the Watercolor & Graphic Society of Mobile. I am a native Southerner, born and raised in Louisiana, and have since settled in Lucedale, which I now call home. I thank God for His many blessings of this talent. I have taught various workshops, classes, painted murals for church, an elementary school, and restaurants.  It is a privilege to be a part of this team for creating the city’s mural. I love this town for the warmth and friendships that I so cherish. Lucedale is a great town that has so much to offer and am proud to be a part of it. 

Kelly Wilkerson

I live in the Benndale community.  I have been married to Michael for 30 years. I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama.  I attended Jefferson State Community College (Birmingham) and University of South Alabama, both as an art /graphics design major. I was honored to be asked to be a part of the City Mural project. The idea presented to Mayor Doug Lee and the team of a “vintage postcard theme” was inspired by the work artist Victor Ving has done across the country in various cities. There is so much hidden talent in George County. We are fortunate to have a group of individual artists who felt honored and humbled to be asked to be a part of a gift to the community that will hopefully last for many years to come. We didn’t just jump into this haphazardly. We definitely asked God to be the leader over this project. I have learned too many times when I try to do something on my own, I fall on my face.  It’s just better to go ahead and hand God the reins and let Him do the driving!