ASHEBORO, N.C.—Passersby strolling through downtown Asheboro (population 25,284) for morning coffee or to browse for antiques can’t miss an illuminated trompe l’oeil train with real train tracks and lights that appears to be coming out of a brick wall. A local fine artist created it.
Susan Harrell is a self-taught painter and a native of Asheboro. She said she enjoys stretching her abilities from concept to image in creative ways by adding a layer of acrylic to her oil paintings and perfecting her skills with each new work.
She said, “I love the Renaissance era painters, like Rembrandt, Raphael, and Michelangelo. I learned from these masters. However, today I’ve focused more on something else. I’m a photorealist, an oil painter. I’m training to be a hyper-photorealist.”
A hyper-photorealist, according to Harrell, is an artist whose painting is so tight and skillful that a viewer can’t tell the difference between a photograph and the painting.
To master the imagery for the mural, Harrell traveled to Tweetsie Railroad at a Wild West theme park in nearby Blowing Rock, N.C., and went inside the tunnels to get a feel for drawing the train in the center of town.
Harrell started painting just four years ago and has done four murals in Asheboro.
The two-story train mural, a volunteer restoration project, is getting her noticed. People from surrounding towns are asking Harrell to paint photorealist images for them.
“A lot of us were asked to restore this mural on the side a building downtown; about 22 people turned up,” she said.
The city could not get funding to pay for the mural, so she decided to donate her artistry. “I’m not a person who volunteers for things all the time, but I think its good for people to do it. I committed to doing it and I thought it would help me paint and focus better if I just did it, so I did. It was a little difficult. It took me six months to finish it. I’m glad that I did,” said Harrell.
Though she said she does not volunteer all the time, Harrell won a Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in 2010, “that honors people who have shown concern and compassion for their neighbors by making a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service,” according to the announcement. The award was for being artist in residence at Asheboro’s Randolph Hospital.
The Train Project is a kind of centerpiece in the middle of town. Its light attracts those who see it and it provides the backdrop for many photo ops.