Staged with her paints set up and ready to get to work, Missouri artist Sandra Pemberton climbed the scaffold with a piece of soapstone and started etching out, freehand, the contours of a patriotic American mural on a sheet of metal siding.
The 36-year-old painter from Neosho, Missouri, has always preferred to work without the hindrance of a projector. She traversed the 20-foot-wide, 12-foot-high building side—visible from Highway 63 Pomona in Howell County, Missouri, as her patron had intended.
The process of making her mural started with an eight- by 10-inch concept painting. Then the prep work began, with the procurement of scaffolding, ladders, paint tables, and of course, speakers for her music.
“I often must step back away from the wall and look at the design as a whole, getting all of the proportions correct,” Pemberton said.
Then she and her husband Matthew started “filling in the design like a coloring book.” The first stages looked rough and were just for covering the entire surface in paint.
“I will go over it to correct mistakes, shade, and add detail later,” Pemberton said. “I paint in layers, working from the general to the specific, and adding layers of color.”
In “The Howell County Tribute Mural,” rendered in mainly warm hues, an American flag sweeps across the eaves above, arcing over a bald eagle whose wings are outstretched, as if it’s lifting the Stars and Stripes. At the bottom right, flag-raising soldiers, depicted in the famous photo from the Battle of Iwo Jima, strike a bold silhouette before a glowing sunset. Centered beneath the eagle, “We The People” is rendered calligraphically on parchment. At the bottom left, a tribute to first responders and law enforcement is emblazoned.
“I start painting with a large three- or four-inch brush and finish with an artist brush that holds just a few hairs,” Pemberton said. “I also sign and date every piece.”
The work was completed in five days in September—with a brewing storm costing them an evening of work. After the painting’s completion, a heavy clear coat was applied to protect it from the sun fading out the colors and scratches, as well as to make the colors sing.
Images of Pemberton’s mural have been shared 30,000 times on Facebook, with visitors traveling from as far as Illinois and South Carolina to check out her mural.
“I am beyond blessed to be given these opportunities. I have been contacted by people all over the United States,” she said.
Since the project’s completion, Pemberton has been asked to travel to more states than she can remember to paint more work.
“Veterans message me thanking me for painting it, and it’s hard to wrap my head around. I feel as if the painting is my thank you to them. I don’t deserve a thank you,” she said. “They put their lives on the line in order for me to have the life I am blessed with. I am just so very thankful to be able to give them something that they can feel good about.”