An acclaimed Philadelphia mural artist brightens up Charles Town with local help.

The colorful mural mosaics of Isaiah Zagar splash across hundreds of walls in downtown Philadelphia. For many of them, Zagar draws the outlines on the walls of privately owned buildings. Then community members fill in the lines by painting and then arranging thousands of pieces of pottery, glass, mirrors, and tile.

Zagar’s unique blend of public and private art is now finding new homes in West Virginia. In July 2017, Liz Goins and Clissy Funkhouser hosted their first organizational meeting for Charles Town’s planned Zagar mural. They were shocked when 50 people showed up to help. When the group approached the owner of the building where they hoped to install the mural, he replied, “I don’t care how big you make it, I don’t care what you put up there. I love art.”

“The community just responded with open hearts,” says Funkhouser, chairwoman of Charles Town’s Public Arts Committee. The level of interest was so encouraging that the group decided to take on a much larger portion of the building than originally planned.

“When Isaiah first saw how big we had made it, he said, ‘Well, we’ll be able to get about half that done,’” Funkhouser recalls. “But you know what? We got it all done. We had over 600 volunteers in a five-day period. I’m just gonna say it, it was nothing short of miraculous.”

The finished mosaic mural is nearly 75 feet long and includes the town’s name in large lettering, abstract forms, and an image of John Brown, who was put on trial in Charles Town after his raid on Harpers Ferry.

Charles Town artist Liz Goins first conceived of the project and location, suggesting it to Funkhouser while the two were attending another Jefferson County art event. Though Funkhouser is a self-described “left-brained” CPA for her day job, the ambitious idea fit perfectly with her committee role to create visible public art in the city’s arts and culture district.

“I thought, how marvelous,” Funkhouser says. “What a wonderful project and a great focus, to have something that we can leave as a legacy here in the community. It was the right place at the right time, and we were the right people to do it.”

But Funkhouser is quick to add that this creative expression isn’t limited to Charles Town. “The stuff that we’re doing here can be done in any town,” she says.

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J. Kendall Perkinson
Written by J. Kendall Perkinson
J. Kendall Perkinson is a multimedia journalist working in Morgantown. He produces video for 100 Days in Appalachia and writes for WV Living and Morgantown Magazine, but is best known for his true crime podcast Mared & Karen: The WVU Coed Murders. His second Appalachian true crime podcast is currently in production.