Princeton Times

Opinion

August 24, 2012

Lifting local hearts? Now, that matters

PRINCETON — Painting a farm house pink probably wouldn’t get its owner nominated for a beautification award. But, what if the rosy hue healed a hurting heart?

Thankfully, I’ve never been faced with the difficult decorating decision, but one of my favorite literary characters was, and I’m proud to say that August Boatwright decided she could live behind Pepto-Bismol walls just to make her sister smile.

In Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees,” August and her sisters, May and June, make their living tending bees and tracking the insect’s mesmerizing tendencies at a Tiburon, S.C., farm.

The story is set in 1964, during the height of Civil Rights tensions in the deep south. Lily Owens, a 14-year-old white girl finds herself on the run with Rosaleen, the black woman her father hired to tend Lily in the absence of her mother, lost to a violent secret that drives much of Lily’s life.

When Rosaleen lands in jail after a run-in with some powerful white men, Lily breaks her “stand-in mama” free, and the two set out on the lam in search of a picture that turns out to be a honey label produced by the Boatwright sisters.

When the exhausted, hungry pair reaches the Boatwright home, Lily can scarcely help but notice the unusual hue of the house, but it isn’t until August shares her favorite color that Lily works up the nerve to ask about the paint.

According to the screenplay of the movie based on the book, that conversation went like this:

Lily Owens: If your favorite color is blue, why did you paint the house pink?

August Boatwright: That was May's doing. When we went to the paint shop, she latched on to a color called “Caribbean Pink.” She said it made her feel like dancing a Spanish Flamenco. I personally thought it was the tackiest color I had ever seen, but I figured if it could lift May's heart, it was good enough to live in.

Lily Owens: That was awfully nice of you.

August Boatwright: Well, I don't know. Some things in life, like the color of a house, don't really matter. But lifting someone's heart? Now, that matters.

•••

See, May was the sweetest sister, but her heart was also the most fragile. A twin left to live her life without half of herself, May was easily troubled and often spent hours stuffing her handwritten woes into cracks in a wall, where she hoped they would find resolution.

If a few coats of pink paint could ease her worries, August decided it was worth adding to the walls of the family sanctuary.

•••

August’s sincere explanation returned to mind this week, during a conversation with RiffRaff Arts Collective’s Lori McKinney, about a plan to install decorative murals on walls throughout Princeton.

Kira Shoemaker, a mural artist who recently settled into the local art community, has already created a rough draft of one mural, slated for the wall adjacent to Service Cleaners — the one that greets visitors as the reach Mercer Street.

The wall was once shared by the former Memorial Funeral Home location and has been left on its own since the historic structure was demolished in recent years.

The second mural, which McKinney hopes will still be just the beginning of the wall art that brightens our hometown, is headed for the vacant wall adjacent to the Princeton Public Library parking lot.

“Eventually, we might even work our way up to 10 murals throughout the community, and we want them all to be very community-oriented and positive,” McKinney said.

There is much work to be done before the first coat of paint hits the brick and mortar.

The first step will be to prepare the walls for a new, prettier coat of paint. To do that, McKinney said old paint will need to be removed, and the painting surface will have to be smoothed.

Early estimates indicate the work could cost $1,000 or more.

But, the artists determined to lift our hearts with their work are committed to meeting and exceeding the goal.  

The city has already expressed support, as the Princeton Improvement Commission has already pledged $2,500 to assist in the mural project.

“That was really a positive surprise,” McKinney explained, adding that she is tremendously appreciative of the financial backing that will help move the mural initiative from the drafting table to the paint plan.

•••

While I doubt there will be an abundance of Caribbean Pink in Princeton’s murals, the similarity in spirit and commitment between August Boatwright’s cotton candy-colored house and the local effort to make art part of a trip downtown is striking.

If there are walls we all live and do business behind, beside and nearby, let’s decorate them with something that will lift our hearts and brighten our days and stand as a constant reminder of the people we are in the place we’re creating each moment.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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