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Clover mural brightens downtown

More than a year ago, Clover town officials and the Greater Clover Chamber of Commerce made a list of attractions to help promote Clover. One area that was lacking: Art and culture.

Clover native Seth Gadsden - an artist with a flair for the unusual - had a vision that addressed that need. He asked town officials to support his idea of a huge, colorful mural on a brick wall in the downtown area.

After more than a year, a lot of paint and hundreds of volunteer hours, town officials are preparing to hold a community celebration of the mural's completion. A dedication is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Boyd's Tire and Appliance store on Main Street.

The 35- by 100-foot mural on the north-facing wall of Boyd's features vibrant red, orange and yellow balloons floating above a jungle of life-size grass, greenery and tree leaves, backed by a pale blue summer sky.

"When I think of Clover, I think of fields and clover and grass and trees and all the things that small towns have," said Gadsden, 30, a 1999 Clover High graduate who has a master's degree in painting from Boston University.

The balloons - the most eye-catching element of the work - are an artistic signature of sorts for Gadsden. In December 2006, he and a friend from the College of Charleston inflated hundreds of balloons at the Clover High School football field. Then they moved the floating mass around the town for a day, to the delight and amazement of residents.

The massive balloon "event," as Gadsden calls it, was followed by a Boston exhibition featuring the drawings of children from a Clover day care center who saw the balloons. He's also working on a film about the event.

"In a way, I created a story here about these balloons," he said.

The mural's child-like art style is based on the drawings of the Clover children who watched the balloons, Gadsden said. "I wanted it to seem like a scene from 'Where the Wild Things Are,' " he said.

The mural does evoke the aura of the wild.

"I wanted small kids and young people to be able to walk up to it and just feel overwhelmed by color, and inspired by all of the things that art could be," he said.

Gadsden said the mural is the largest in York County. Though he did most of the painting himself, he had young volunteers from the YMCA, a summer art camp and art students at Clover High. Clover town council members and other town leaders also volunteered.

Boyd's owner Billy Boyd, who agreed to allow the mural on his building, said he thinks it turned out well. "It's a pretty good conversation piece," said Boyd. "I've had a lot of good comments on it."

Town Manager Allison Harvey, an initial supporter of Gadsden's idea, helped it become a reality. Harvey said the project cost $10,800. The Arts Council of York County provided $750 in grants and about $3,000 was raised selling raffle tickets for a smaller version of the mural. The remaining funding came from the town's share of county accommodations tax revenue, which is intended to help promote tourism, she said.

"We need to show that we are progressive thinkers, and that we want to undertake some beautification activities, and some cultural activities," Harvey said. "This mural fills so many gaps that we have that it was kind of a no-brainer for me to jump behind it."

Gadsden, who has been working on the mural since May 2010, was paid $6,000. A paint company, Golden Artist Colors, sponsored the project by providing the special paint at a low cost.

It's not the first such project for Gadsden. He and his wife, Jamie Self, a Herald reporter, spent two years doing community art while traveling nearly 40,000 miles across North America with another couple.

The couples traveled and lived in a bus they converted to run on vegetable oil. They did scrap metal sculptures, murals - though none as large as the one in Clover - and performances in communities from Mexico to Alaska. They lived on savings and the money they earned from odd jobs.

When he and Self moved back to Clover to stay with Gadsden's parents in late 2009, Gadsden pitched his mural idea to Harvey and other town leaders. The town wasn't actively seeking a mural project, he said, but his timing was right. The Town Council agreed to support it.

When the mural is dedicated next week, a raffle will be held for Gadsden's smaller painting of the mural.

Gadsden said artists can create their own chances to share art.

"You don't have to wait around for opportunities to present themselves," Gadsden said. "A lot of people are willing to get paid less to do a project that they dream about. There are people who are talented who would be willing to do cool community projects that make life more interesting."

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