If you’ve walked around Dunwoody’s Spruill Center for the Arts lately, you might notice that the building looks a bit different – brighter, more colorful – than it did before. Murals and other art pieces have begun to pop up all over the building, and CEO Alan Mothner wants to see that trend continue.
“We worked out of a 1960s old school,” Mothner said about the center at 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. “[It] was a beige, stucco building that just screamed, ‘I’m a municipal building.’ And had no bearing at all on being an art center.”
Spruill needed an evolution, needed to feel more like an art center than a city structure – but the first step involved making sure changes were possible in the first place. Back in February 2021, the Public Facilities Authority – which is made up of members of the Dunwoody City Council and owns the Spruill Center building – approved Spruill’s plan to make aesthetic improvements to the building. Mothner said Spruill has a number of ideas for ways to spruce up the center, and plans to include a plethora of different mediums, whether it be ceramics, painting, or sculpture.
“We felt it was very important to practice what we preach, which is that art is important and valuable and can make a difference in the community,” Mothner said. “So we want every facet of that building to represent art in a variety of forms, which is why we’re incorporating many different mediums.”
First Projects – Murals
Some of the first projects to grace Spruill’s walls are three unique murals, all from the minds of Spruill Center instructors. Mothner brought the first of these murals before the Dunwoody Art Commission – which approves public art projects in the city – at a March 17 meeting.
The mural, “Daydreaming,” is by artist and Spruill instructor Diana Toma, and now sits at the center’s entrance. The mural depicts a person with their eyes closed, thinking – or daydreaming, as it were – about art, creation, and the world around them.
“I am so honored having it be right there at the Spruill Center entrance,” Toma said. “Spruill has been a catalyst for who I’ve become as an artist. All the people that I’ve met there, the community that I’ve created, all the relationships that I’ve created through teaching those classes there – this is very important to me.”
Toma, like Mothner, was interested in showcasing Spruill as a true arts center, and wanted the mural to impart what she loved about Spruill. She said she hopes when people walk by “Daydreaming,” they stop and take a moment to think.
“I was looking to create a sense of wonder,” she said. “So in a way, you could say that this is a visual poem of what Spruill stands for.”
Along with “Daydreaming,” visitors to the Spruill Center will find two other murals, both located in the center’s plaza – Megan Reeves Williamson’s “Shine Your Light” and Maureen Engle’s “Wooded Wall.”
Williamson said she was a bit apprehensive about putting her name in to create a mural. She teaches and is much more comfortable creating mixed-media collages, so a painted mural was a departure from the norm.
“I was honestly fearful of doing a mural,” Williamson said. “It was not in my wheelhouse.”
But one day, she walked by Toma working on her mural as she left Spruill for the day. Inspired by Toma’s work, she decided to take the plunge.
“I was stunned by it,” she said. “Something clicked in me where I thought, I think I want to do that now. She inspired me to not be so scared of that.”
Williamson began work on her mural, trying to create a piece in a similar style to a collage. The final product, “Shine Your Light,” depicts a flashlight on one side, shining out into a dark, obscure background and revealing a multitude of abstract shapes and colors within the light.
“I have very spiritual meanings in my collage work, so ‘Shine Your Light’ kind of fits with that,” Williamson said. “I use a lot of bright colors, overlapping abstract shapes and sort of whimsical items … it all just came together.”
The third mural at Spruill Center, “Wooded Wall,” comes from Spruill instructor Maureen Engle – mostly. She had a few extra hands on deck to help her out.
Engle said she worked on her mural – which depicts a forest of birch trees surrounded by colorful leaves – during Spruill’s summer camp. Everyday, kids would pass by, see her painting and ask if they could join in.
Eventually, Engle let them. She allowed the campers to pick their favorite colors and paint leaves on the trees in the mural. It might not have been the concept she originally had in mind – “It became even more colorful,” she said – but it all worked out in the end.
“I love letting kids take the lead and be creative,” she said. “It was fun. They got excited about it, and I got excited about it.”
Mothner said the kids’ excitement about being involved in the mural led to quite a stir on camp’s “Fantastic Friday,” a day when campers can bring their parents and show them what they’ve accomplished.
“They all dragged their parents outside in the 90-degree weather and showed them their mural,” he said. “Like, ‘mom and dad, look at the mural that I made!’”
Mothner said Spruill’s next projects, much like Engle’s mural, will involve collaboration from members of the Dunwoody community. The Art Commission has already approved the next improvement, Spruill’s “Mosaic Mandala Project.”
As part of this project, Mothner said residents will be able to take part in a mosaics course and help create mosaic mandalas that will be located at the back entry to the building. The class will be held during “Back to Spruill Week” from Sept. 11-18, and interested residents can sign up online.
Another project that has not yet been presented to the Art Commission includes a series of totems made with ceramics that will be placed in the garden area in front of the center.
Mothner said Spruill will also continue to work on projects throughout the city. At an Aug. 3 meeting, the Art Commission approved a mural project at 5064 Nandina Lane. Engle will be teaching a class where she and a group of teenage students will create a 9-foot-tall by 100-foot-long mural for the location.
“The concept is kind of a Georgia O’Keeffe-ish garden,” Engle said. “I have a concept, but I’m going to let the teenagers give a good bit of input.”
Spruill will be holding an open house on Sept. 12 from 1-5 p.m. where residents can stop by to see the new murals as well as demonstrations of ceramics, leatherworking, painting, and jewelry. According to a Spruill spokesperson, the event is free and no registration is necessary.