These days, the working life of Bill Mangum has quite literally become a walk in the park. Renowned for his realistic canvases, the Gate City painter — aka “North Carolina’s Artist” — turned to Abstract art last year and has created the annual Honor Card for Greensboro Urban Ministry for years. Now, Mangum is lending his talents to another worthy cause: Greensboro Beautiful’s 50th Anniversary. The nonprofit secured four different underwriters for four signature paintings. Mangum explains that 500 reproductions of each will be made in an 11-by-14-inch format and sold for $25 to raise funds for the Greensboro Beautiful.
The Bryan Foundation supported the first painting of Gateway Gardens, unveiled last month at Groovin’ in the Garden. An idealized rendering of the green space, it depicts several elements that are impossible to see at once: the alphabet block archway, the fountain and frog sculpture, the whimsical giraffe topiary. “I took a lot of artistic license in pushing perspectives and slightly rearranging things,” Mangum admits. “But it all works. It makes for a more entertaining piece.” The second painting of the Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden will make its debut at the Parisian Promenade Sunday, June 3, and the third, of Greensboro Arboretum, will be introduced at Art in the Arboretum on Sunday, October 7. The last in the series, a painting of the Bog Garden at Benjamin Park, will be ready later this year. Mangum will attend each event to sign the prints and discuss his works.
He visits each of the gardens frequently so as to capture nature’s changing moods. “If you don’t catch a particular color or blossom, it’s gone till next year,” he says. Along the way, the project started to expand as Mangum painted details — a chickadee perched on a snowy branch, an empty bench scattered with leaves, a butterfly hovering over a blossom. His intention? To create 50 additional paintings that will comprise an exhibition at year’s end alongside the four signature paintings.
There’s a larger purpose to these intimate works. “We tend to see things in 180 [degrees], but I’m hoping we can see the little things,” says Mangum. To his eye, they tell a human story among the nooks and crannies of each garden, serving as informal memorials to those who have gone before us and bring joy to current residents. He himself will establish a memorial to his late son who enjoyed playing music among the blooms and shrubs at Tanger. “If you look, there are remembrances everywhere,” he says. “In many respects, this is hallowed ground.” Info: greensborbeautiful.org.
— Nancy Oakley