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Lee Highway Retaining Wall Is Getting a Mural

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The beginning of a mural has appeared on a wall along Lee Highway from the corner of N. Uhle Street to N. Veitch Street.

The mural is the work of local artist Kate Fleming, a 2014 College of William and Mary graduate who now works for the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central. Fleming was initially approached in 2014 by John Laswick from Engleside Cooperative, the co-op building behind the 110-foot wall, to paint a mural, according to Fleming’s blog.

Now after a year of designing, planning and waiting for warm weather, Fleming has started to add paint to the once dirty retaining wall.

Painted a muted lime green, the mural has pencil sketches on it depicting buildings and houses. A sketch of the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery is also depicted.

The finished mural will be an abstract cityscape of Arlington and the District, Fleming said. The mural contains Arlington landmarks, including Arlington neighborhood on the right half of the mural. On the left, she will paint Key Bridge leading to D.C. and multiple District landmarks like the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

“It’s more about shapes and color and overlapping than a straight depiction of the city,” Fleming said.

Painting a mural is expensive, especially since the wall needed to be cleaned before Fleming could start, she said on blog. Engleside Cooperative is funding part of the mural, but Fleming also received Arlington Commission for the Art’s Spotlight Artist Grant for 2016. The grant gave Fleming $5,000.

“Getting the funding from the Arlington Commission for the Arts and Arlington Cultural Affairs has finally gotten this project moving in a real way. It’s been a full year in the works, but things are finally starting to pick up speed,” Fleming said in a June 25 post.

However, the project hit a small snag after being selected for the grant. Because the mural is technically on private property, county staff thought she her mural might be considered a sign, and subject to the county’s stringent sign ordinance.

From her blog post entitled “Speed Bump:”

Progress on the mural (and on this blog) hit a bit of a speed bump last week. As I was putting the finishing touches on the design in Illustrator (more on that later), I got a call from Angela Adams over at Arlington Public Arts. Angela was a huge help throughout the Spotlight Grant application process. She was calling to let me know that my project did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Arlington Public Arts Committee. This seemed, at first, a good thing; I would not need to go through the Public Art Committee’s approval process and so I could get started right away. But there was one catch: because it was determined to be a non-public art project, Angela and I concluded that I would have to follow the County sign ordinance.

Fleming was instructed to go to the county zoning office, where she spoke with a staff member. After a few days in which she stopped all work on the mural, she called the staff member and was told that her mural wasn’t a sign after all, it was going to be considered private artwork under county regulations.

“I have the County’s go-ahead and that’s what matters!” Fleming wrote. “I lost a few days of work in the process, but I’m getting back on track,” she wrote in her July 12 post.

It took Fleming a little over a week to pencil mark her mural, and she expects it to take weeks to paint it, she said. Once completed, the mural will have 10 different colors, including shades of blues and greens. The mural will be abstract and won’t necessarily be a day or night scene, though people could consider it to depict Arlington and D.C. during the day, she said.

A lot of thought went into the design of the mural, Fleming said, in order to give it a complex, abstract feel but with identifiable structures. Fleming said she and Laswick want people to be able to look at the mural multiple times and “to see something new every time you looked. So it’s complex and layered that way.”

Fleming’s contract for the mural has a completion date of Sept. 30, but Fleming said she hopes to finish by the end of August or beginning of September.

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