Carrboro, Chapel Hill Collaborate on New Mural of Elizabeth Cotten

October 9, 2020

A new mural will celebrate legendary blues musician and local hero Elizabeth Cotten.

Located on the Carrboro-Chapel Hill line at 111 N. Merritt Mill Road, the mural is part of a statewide project to honor famous North Carolina musicians in their hometowns. The mural will be painted by Chapel Hill artist Scott Nurkin, who also conceived of the statewide project.

Elizabeth Cotten was a legendary folk-blues singer, songwriter, and guitar player. Born in the early 1890s near Chapel Hill, in an area that would later be incorporated as Carrboro, she taught herself to play music on her brother’s banjo as a child, but only began publicly performing and recording in her 60s. Cotten is renowned for her distinctive musical style, created by playing left-handed on a right-handed guitar. Many of her songs reference her early life in North Carolina, including her most iconic song, “Freight Train.”

ncmm_john_coltrane_final_320The mural is part of the North Carolina Musicians Mural Project, a statewide mural “trail” envisioned by Nurkin and inspired by paintings that once hung in a popular Chapel Hill restaurant. More than a decade ago, Nurkin created portraits of famous musicians from North Carolina for Peppers Pizza, which closed in 2013. This new project reimagines those portraits as outdoor murals and includes John Coltrane in Hamlet (pictured), Earl Scruggs in Shelby, Roberta Flack in Black Mountain, and more. “I have been dreaming of this project for over a decade and luckily I have been finally able to get it off the ground. It’s important to me for people to know that North Carolina has not only produced a wealth of talent, but some of the greatest trailblazers in American music. Elizabeth Cotten is absolutely a part of that group,” says Nurkin.

The Elizabeth Cotten mural is made possible through a collaboration among the towns of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. Susan Brown, Executive Director of Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, notes that all three organizations share several interests. “We came together to fund this project because of our shared commitment to public art and to our downtowns, and out of respect for the lasting legacy and impact of Ms. Cotten,” Brown said. “We see this as a great way for local residents to celebrate her and as a gateway for visitors to learn about our rich musical and cultural heritage.”

Nurkin will begin work on the mural beginning the week of Oct. 12 and is expected to complete it by Oct. 19. For media inquiries, contact Melissa Bartoletta from the Town of Chapel Hill at mbartoletta@townofchapelhill.org.

To learn more about the NC Musicians Mural Project, visit musicianmuralsproject.com. To learn more about Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, visit chapelhillarts.org. To learn more about Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership visit downtownchapelhill.com To learn more about Carrboro Arts, look up the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Arts Department and the Carrboro Arts Committee at townofcarrboro.org.