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The North Frayser Community Center Mural
Jeffrey Unthank, Designer
Jonathan Hart and Jeffrey Unthank, Artists

The North Frayser 

Community Center before The North Frayser Community Center schematic The North Frayser 

Community Center after

In 2010, UrbanArt (Memphis) sent out a 'Call to Artists' requesting proposals for an exterior mural at the North Frayser Community Center.
Over the next several months, the Selection Committee narrowed their choices to a small group of finalists, from which they chose Jeffrey Unthank's 'Roots and Wings' design.

Now completed, the mural at the North Frayser Community Center joins an already impressive collection of works of urban and public art, some of the country's best, spearheaded by the UrbanArt Commission.


To some people, a community is the place in which they live. To others, it is the people who live there. A community, in fact, is both the people and the place. The Universal English Dictionary describes a community as a "society or body of persons living in the same place, having the same rights, privileges, and interests, and acknowledging the same laws." This definition reminded me of an old nursery rhyme. "For my child/ I wish two things,/ To give you roots/ and give you wings." Though I hadn't thought of that little poem in years, it inspired the concept for the mural I'm proposing. It also reminded me of an old African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child." This is the mural's theme.

Every community, like every child, must begin from a sound foundation to achieve its full potential. That one must look back in order to move ahead is a principle well known in both religion and psychology. The Platonic ideal of always being in a state of becoming, of building on that which went before in order to more fully explore the future, is an early example. The American Transcendentalists spoke at length about the necessity to grasp the past as a guide to the future. George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher, wrote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" An old African-American saying tells us "You can't know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been." Even the simple nursery rhyme which inspired my mural is derived from the ancient Chinese proverb: "A parent owes a child two things, Roots and Wings." .

Communities thrive when their inhabitants live safe, active, healthy lives and everyone feels valued and involved. The North Frayser Community Center achieves this by providing a wide range of programs and services which nurture the mind, body and spirit. It fosters a sense of belonging where dreams and potential are encouraged. It not only serves the needs of its members but gives back to the community as a whole by providing essential support to local families. In doing so, it stands as a testament to the old saying, and my mural's theme, "It takes a village to raise a child." .

The mural illustrates the large and diverse Frayser "family" working together to support their community by literally holding a typical Frayser neighborhood, with the Community Center highlighted in the middle, above their heads. The taller and stronger individuals, able to carry more weight, do so but everyone, regardless of age, gender or capability, plays an equally important supportive role. The power of their combined effort is illustrated by the large wings which are unfurled from either side. The rising sun carves the sky with huge rays of light which fan out toward new horizons. The importance of a sound foundation is symbolized by the roots which dangle not only from the neighborhood which is being held aloft but also from the rising earth upon which the people are standing. .

This mural is not meant to simply decorate a building. The Community Center is more than a place to play basketball or learn the computer. It is a neutral ground away from home, school and work where citizens can establish a connection with other members of their community and develop a collective identity It is the power of this collective identity to build a resilient community that this mural celebrates.

It was a privilege to paint on site at the North Frayser Community Center.

Not many jobs allow you the opportunity to have so many people go out of their way to thank you for the work you're doing. It was like getting a little round of applause every time I picked up a brush. I only hope that people like the mural as much as they told me they did. Of course, when something wasn't quite working, they noticed that as well. I made more than a few corrections along the way. The fact that people cared that much about what I was doing was very rewarding.

Over 20 different children helped me paint the parts of the mural which they could safely reach. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I had more hands wanting to paint then I had walls needing to be painted. The pride they took in their work made me work even harder. It was a sad day when I finally had to announce that there was nothing left for them to paint.

The North 

Frayser Community CenterThe North Frayser 

Community Center The North Frayser 

Community CenterThe North Frayser 

Community Center

North Frayser Community Center Mural before and after', schematic & detailed photos

The UrbanArt Commission