Into the mind of a muralist

Gallery 86 features Laurel Tewes
By Stina Sieg | Jan 09, 2012
Photo by: Donated photo

For Laurel Tewes, creating art isn’t just a job or a hobby or a passion. It’s who she is.

“It is in my DNA,” said the Canton resident, who explains that she’s been a working artist “forever.”

As a muralist, her work can be seen at homes, businesses, schools and other public buildings up and down the East Coast, but the bulk of what she’s currently showing at Gallery 86 isn’t the large-scale work that has been her bread and butter for the last 30-some years.

“Laurel Tewes: A Muralist’s Private Artwork,” up through Feb. 4, shows that her passion doesn’t stop at murals. The exhibit’s collection of intricate, abstract graphite drawings is miles away from many of her other pieces. This kind of variation is no blip. Tewes has never been stuck on one thing.

She explained that if you put all of her work into one room, you’d swear it belonged to seven different artists.

“And I like that,” she said, “because I am a consummate creator and inventor to the core.”

A moment later, she was smiling with embarrassment, not wanting to sound egotistical. She stressed that all she had just said is true, however. She has known it for decades.

She even had confidence in her work when she was a young child growing up in Massachusetts. Though her parents were both working artists (her father a draftsman, her mother a technical illustrator), they never persuaded or dissuaded their little girl from following in their footsteps.

Despite the fact that they “didn’t say good, bad — nothing, whatsoever,” Tewes said, she still knew she was creating something special.

“I saw what I did and it looked good,” she explained, laughing.

She soon realized that she wasn’t the only one who thought so. Unlike many artists, Tewes has never really had to do a typical 9-to-5 job in order to get by. While at school at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Syracuse University, she found she liked painting big. Murals became her signature, and she became a working artist before she even graduated.

“I’ve made a living off of my murals forever,” she said, looking back. “I was lucky.”

In the years since, her murals have taken her all sorts of places. Sometimes, she’ll spend her days at schools or libraries adding whimsical scenes to previously plain walls. Other times, she’ll work at home on giant pieces of canvas that she’ll later wallpaper into clients’ houses. These days, when someone hires her to add a little spice to one wall, they keep working with her for an average of two years on multiple projects (“soup to nuts, kitchen to bathroom,” as she put it).

In a sense, each one of these pieces always becomes two — one that she creates for up-close viewing and one that’s powerful enough from a distance to affect people when they first walk into a room.

From far away or close up, “I want the mural to have a good feeling to it,” she said.

In her friendly way, Tewes explained that there are perks to getting older. Having honed her skills nearly all her life, she feels free to be spontaneous when faced with a blank wall or canvas.

“I’m so disciplined and experienced with my mediums that I can just then let go and let my passion and spirit guide me,” she said. “I’m in a real nice place now where I can follow my heart.”

Often that means that between working on commissions, she puts down her paintbrushes and dives into sculpting, drawing or another art form that piques her interest. Her current show features strong influence from one such technique. Though the pieces are pencil drawings, they borrow heavily from Japanese wood prints from the 1600s through the 1800s. Careful constructions of patterns, shapes and lines, her drawings have a feeling of nature and movement to them. They are also mind-bendingly precise.

They aren’t just pieces of beautiful artwork, but a look into Tewes’ mind, which has an artistic hunger that she can’t turn off.

In her words, she “has to be creative or else I just don’t feel right.”

Her show, which also includes an 8-foot-tall painted hollyhock, is proof of that. On Fridays and Saturdays during its run, she’ll even put this desire to create on display as she demonstrates her mural techniques for visitors.

Her goal is that they “leave their troubles behind and be in the moment, enjoying tantalizing images,” she said.

She hopes they lose themselves in these pieces, just as she does when she creates them.

A reception for Tewes’ show will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Haywood County Art Council’s Gallery 86, 86 N. Main St. in Waynesville. For more information about the show, call 452-0593 or visit For more information about Tewes’ murals — and she is taking new clients — call her at (413) 528-0064.

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