CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Leonard Hoover has been in Charleston barely a week, but he's already poised to leave a permanent mark on his new home.
Hoover was one of 10 artists chosen to paint murals on the columns that support Interstate 64 along Pennsylvania for the second Peer to Pier Mural Project. His design -- a nod to the city's arts community -- includes an outline of the Clay Center and the traditional comedy and tragedy theater masks, along with the South Side Bridge.
Given that the theme for this year's murals was the river and how it shaped Charleston, images of bridges, sternwheelers and gold domes were common among the entries.
Judges liked Sharon Harms' homage to the recent past. Her "River Fun" painting, with its flotilla of bright yellow rubber duckies, its hot air balloons and, yes, another South Side Bridge, pays tribute to the Sternwheel Regatta Festival.
A total of 27 artists or teams submitted designs this year, up from 16 last year. That made judging a bit harder.
The five jurors, who asked to remain anonymous, spent about 90 minutes picking the winners, giving preference to artists not chosen last year. Only three -- Ian Bode, Charly Hamilton and Jeff Pierson -- return for a second round.
"There was a lot of discussion," said Lori Brannon, a neighborhood planner for the city who helped organize the project but did not vote. "There were very few [designs] that were unanimous -- 'Oh yeah, we want that in.'
"So artists not selected this year shouldn't feel bad because it was so competitive."
To increase his odds, Hamilton submitted four different designs. His winner, a rounded-off image of Appalachian Power Park, may have little to do with the river but judges chose it anyway.
Like most of his paintings, it's crammed full of details that demand careful study. "There's a mermaid," he said, pointing, "buildings with faces, some C-130s, the governor [a tiny figure with a gold crown]."
Many of his people have no faces ... yet. "When I paint I'll tell people from the West Side to come by and I'll put them in there." Hamilton might not be joking.
Kelly Bryant, who calls herself a bartender/artist, said she drew inspiration from her musician friends at the Boulevard Tavern. Her design includes a Martin acoustic guitar superimposed on the score of "Country Roads," all on a bright purple background.
Emma Plagemann, an architectural designer at the Charleston firm Silling Associates, reached much farther back for her inspiration.
"This is based on Nolli's map," she said of her map of downtown and the West Side, with a pink sternwheel, gold-domed Capitol and Court Street overlook canopy. In its day, Giambattista Nolli's 1748 birds-eye view of Rome was considered a breakthrough in map design, she said.
Winfield artist Janet Chambers followed the river theme literally. Her painting is all blue, Kanawha water -- filled with fish.
"There are all fish found in the Kanawha River," she said. "Some are more plentiful than others. There are around 20 species."
Some are common game fish -- bass, catfish, sunfish. Some are food for the game fish, like shiners and threadfin shad. Still others you might never have heard of: the quillback, the river redhorse and smallmouth buffalo. And there's at least one ancient species, the odd-looking paddlefish that feeds on algae.
The artists have just two months to paint their designs on the chosen piers -- along the north side of Kanawha Boulevard just west of the Elk River bridge -- starting June 1.
Contractors working on the interstate who are storing their equipment near the project area plan to move their fence out to the edge of the sidewalk to give a little more protection to the artists, Brannon said, as they'll be working near a busy road.
"I'm just really excited to see it happen," Brannon said. "It made a big impact last year and, with all the improvements along the river, this will add to it. It's right next to Magic Island."Reach Jim Balow at ba...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.