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CHATTANOOGA. Perhaps cities are among our best architects of memory. Afterall, cities are places that offer an intentional public realm to reveal what we value. Such places speak to us if we roll or stroll by slowly and just look.
One of the most poignant of such memorials is a new mural near downtown Chattanooga created by artist Kevin Bate. The ‘fallen five,’ as they are fondly spoken of by locals, line up side-by-side like framed photos their families’ might have on the mantel.
The five brave men are Sergeant Carson Holmquist, Navy Petty Officer Second Class Randall Smith, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Lance Corporal Squire Skip Wells, and Staff Sergeant David Wyatt.
This weekend, July 16 to be exact, marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting of the five servicemen when a gunman attacked their various training and recruitment centers in Chattanooga. Their heroism saved countless other lives that day, no doubt. On Saturday, families of the five men attended numerous formal ceremonies, and they also gathered at the mural where the children looked up at their fathers in literal and emotional gesture. In the evening, an illumination ceremony was held. For those of us who call Chattanooga home, it was a moving scene as the families clearly engaged with the artwork.
The mural reflects a serious personal commitment for artist Kevin Bate. It was a volunteer project supported by donations. Behr paint, for example, offered whatever products he needed. When pushed for some estimate on the scope of that commitment, Bate estimates he must have spent around 300 hours painting up on the scaffolding over the past year. The project was completed one soldier at a time and finished only a few weeks ago. The project involved more hours than putting brush to wall, as it included working with volunteers to pressure wash the building and prime the porous surface. There was time setting up scaffolding safely by the busy roadway, and time sketching out the profiles and backdrops. There was also meaningful time spent talking to those who happen by and have questions, and those who made the murals a personal pilgrimage.
The artist said he wanted to make sure the five heroes were remembered; he said his goal was really that simple. So, we encourage you to stop by and pay respects next time you are in the area.
Hear directly from Kevin Bate about the project and the families who became engaged in the project. Chattanooga’s public tv station, WTCI, created a documentary about the fallen five project you can view HERE, called “For the Fallen.”
Several years ago Bate added a depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the street that bears his name. That mural is at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Peeples Street next door to the Chattanooga Urban League. The fallen five McCallie Avenue mural is positioned at the edge of the historic Highland Park neighborhood and is part of a broader mural project Bate began two summers ago. Numerous other professional artists have participated in the vision known as The McCallie Walls Mural Project, now a design destination for those traveling through the city. This summer The Refindery shop, also located on McCallie, got a second mural on the side of its building by a guest artist from Australia, Harriet McKay. Go check out the mural, and The Refindery is one of our favorite places to find unique home furnishings.
I asked Kevin, ‘what comes next?’ after such an epic project. Of course he’s busy with smaller commissions, but he said his dream would be to create a permanent mural of Samuel L. Jackson in Chattanooga. Jackson, the actor who hails from Chattanooga, came back home last summer to participate as a keynote speaker at the ‘Chattanooga Strong’ ceremony that galvanized the community after the shocking tragedy. With many others, he helped raise a large sum of funds to assist the young widows and their children. Some locals may recall the first mural Bates did in town was of Samuel L. Jackson on a building slated for demolition, the old Discoteca. That temporary mural was part of an exercise in engaging mural artists and street artists in a community synergy.
Social media is one of the best ways to keep up with Bates’ projects or to connect with him about a commission. Visit Facebook.com/GoodwithFaces. We agree, Kevin Bates is, indeed, good with faces.