Painting the Past, Present and Future of Health Education

Kionna Coleman – Consultant and Freelance Writer, Poe Center Board of Directors

Inside a backyard art studio, North Carolina artist Nicholas Bragg was entertaining a small group gathered around him. “Do you know why the citizens of this state are called ‘Tar Heels’?” he quizzed. No one knew the answer.

“The first exports from North Carolina were tar pits and turpentine,” he revealed. “Explorers came here looking for gold. It wasn’t here, but pine forest was.”

The thrill of exploration is in finding the unexpected. And the unexpected was what the Poe Center staff and board of directors encountered when several of them traveled to Winston-Salem in August to visit Bragg at his home.

In February, Bragg generously donated his talent and agreed to create a mural in honor of the Poe Center’s 25th anniversary. Six months later, he invited us to his studio for a first-look at the finished masterpiece.

A charming man with a warm soul, Bragg welcomed us into his home that was, not surprisingly, filled with art. Each room was a mini-art museum of works by him, relatives, friends, and other artists he admires.

After chatting over coffee, we feasted on a delicious lunch. The dining room was brimming with sunlight and laughter as Bragg delighted us with stories of his childhood, life as a father of four, and his journey as an artist. We finished the meal with slices of fruit-topped cake, but the real dessert we craved was waiting for us in Bragg’s backyard.

Photo of interview with artist Nicholas Bragg
Kionna Coleman, board of directors member, interviews Nicholas Bragg about his commemorative mural for the Poe Center.  Bragg’s three original maquettes are pictured in the background.  From left to right, health educator and Bragg’s daughter Susan Foster and executive director Ann Rollins join the interview.

The Big Reveal

The smell of turpentine hit us as we stepped into the large studio. But it was the massive panel against the front wall that instantly took our breaths away.

The mural, entitled “Alice Aycock Poe Center Twenty-Five Years and the World,” measures 12×5 feet and is an extraordinary sight of color and imagery. Bragg created an artistic treasure, gracefully weaving Poe’s past, present, and future within the context of world history. There are over 60 symbols embedded in the painting, including a touching tribute to his wife, daughter, and mother.

Bragg began the creative process in February, painting three maquettes to experiment with ideas, technique, and color. He didn’t like the first version, so he painted over it. Then he had an idea. “I penciled around that basket and created the North Carolina state seal,” he said, pointing to a jagged-edge basket on a high shelf. “I don’t try to be photo-real in anything; I find that very boring. I went from there, and I kept drawing.”

Susan Bragg Foster, a health educator at the Poe Center and Bragg’s daughter, was the key link between Bragg and the Poe Center helping to coordinate conversations with Poe staff, board members, donors and the Poe family ensuring that the mural was a true reflection of the people of Poe.

The eighty-year-old artist has created over 700 paintings in his lifetime. The Poe Center mural is Bragg’s seventeenth in the 15 years he retired as the executive director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Despite his extensive experience and obvious talent, Bragg has an endearing humility about his artwork. “I’m not a great artist,” he said emphatically. We disagree.

Through “Alice Aycock Poe Center Twenty-Five Years and the World,” Bragg has beautifully captured the Poe Center’s mission and its impact on the lives of over a million youth in North Carolina through health education. And we are excited to show the world the artistic gold he has bestowed us.

The Poe Center will unveil the mural during our 25th Anniversary Celebration Gala on September 24, 2016.  Located just inside the front doors of the Poe Center, the mural will welcome all future visitors to Poe.  School children, parents, and guests will be able to interact with the art that is a lesson in health.

Join us to celebrate 25 years of the Poe Center and the reveal of “Alice Aycock Poe Center Twenty-Five Years and the World” by Nicholas Bragg during our Celebration Gala on September 24, 2016, from 7:00 pm-10:00 pm.  Purchase your tickets today.



See more photos of our visit with Mr. Bragg on Poe’s Facebook page.