Art in Olympia
OLD RAILROAD TRESTLE PAINTING GETS A SPRUCE UP
By Deena C. Bouknight
Egyptian art in Columbia? Those who have lived or worked in the Mill District of Columbia, where cotton mills Olympia, Whaley, and Granby once thrived, are familiar with the large depiction of Ra, the Egyptian sun god, painted on the remains of an old railroad trestle. While some park-goers may have – at first glance – wondered how an Egyptian artifact found a home in Columbia, closer inspection revealed the fading remains of a 20th century painting. Until recently.
After construction workers demolished an old railroad trestle in the Olympia neighborhood in 1989, a large portion refused to crumble. South Carolina artist and muralist, Richard Lane, decided the weathered sandstone pillar appeared ancient, so he envisioned and then painted an Egyptian scene complete with various symbols and hieroglyphs in 1993. The piece became known locally as the Ra Obelisk.
In 2004, the structure actually became the centerpiece of what is considered a “pocket park” at 904 Heyward Street; benches were added as well as a sidewalk leading to the painting.
In late October, two artists – Jeff Donovan and Georgia Lake – matched colors and repainted the mural, striving to maintain the original work by Richard Lane. One Columbia Executive Director Lee Snelgrove believes the spruced up painting, which will be a key location on the forthcoming Mill District public art trail (developed by the 701 Center for Contemporary Art), revitalizes the area’s energy. “The Mill District has a history as a place for workers and artists,” she says, “and it continues to be a community of passionate people. Public art physically demonstrates a place of pride, and One Columbia is privileged to be a part of preserving the unique creative spirit of the Mill District.”