The mural at 35: Fading, but ‘still gets good message across’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
In 1985, Columbia artist Blue Sky created a 20-foot-high, 144-foot-long mural in downtown Darlington showing a vision of the city circa 1939.
The artist’s work was “so expansive” that today, when Sky sells reproductions of the mural via his website, he has to break it down into five sections:
From left to right, there’s a block of buildings, with cars parked in front and a DRUGS – SODA sign hanging high. Then, there’s the edge of the domed Courthouse, a huge tree, Liberty Theater showing “Gone With the Wind” and a traffic signal marked NO LEFT TURN.
Then, a full view of the Courthouse, with a couple pointing at something and a motorcycle parked next to a flagpole. Then, the Confederate monument, water tower and Civil War cannon. Then, the Bank of Darlington, with cars passing under trees.
Those five “slices” on Sky’s website add up to a widescreen glimpse of Darlington about 80 years ago – a view that thousands have enjoyed for 35 years now.
But time hasn’t been kind to Sky’s creation. Thirty-five years of sunlight, 35 years of rain have scratched away at the mural’s former brightness and sharpness, leaving it dulled, fading, and, in some cases, flaking away.
Lynn Sky, the wife and agent of the famed artist, told the News & Press by e-mail: “I checked with Blue Sky and he says the problem is the wall is being compromised from the top, and rain is leaking in and ruining the wall, making pieces of the wall flake off, so it really can’t be saved.”
She added: “That said, he and I both agree that it still gets a good message across and looks authentically historic in its present condition.”
Asked if she or the artist could estimate how much longer the mural might remain essentially intact, Lynn Sky said: “I don’t think there’s any way to judge that, with the damage to the wall.
“I would imagine, though, as long as it lasts, it would give a sort of ethereal historical record that the town would enjoy.”
Ronnie Ward, who was Darlington’s mayor when the mural was created, recalls: “It was a big event when we unveiled it. … The mural gives us a view of what Darlington used to look like, so pretty and quaint with the domed Courthouse.
“It shows our Square as it was, I guess, during its prime, with the architecture we had, which was truly beautiful. Those buildings were classics. The mural brings them back to us and shows our history and our heritage. … It’s a nice thing, a neat thing, to have in our town.”
Ward doesn’t remember anyone offering projections of how many decades the mural would last, but “It was probably thought that it would not last forever. … I guess nothing lasts forever.”
Blue Sky is now in his 80s. He was born in 1938 in Columbia as Warren Edward Johnson, changing his name in 1974. “I don’t think people realize how poor artists are; we have no money,” he told the University of South Carolina’s student newspaper, The Gamecock, last month.
“I’ve never had a new car, not even anything close to a new car,” Sky told The Gamecock. “We struggle. I never know how we are going to pay anything. I don’t have any money; no one wants to pay for anything. We’re all poor, but that comes with the profession, I guess.”