Murals of Chapel Hill

By Johnny Andrews, University Communications

The list of what makes Chapel Hill special is long, and mixed in with all the stores, offices and restaurants that typically draw people downtown is a more subtle attraction that can make a walk through Chapel Hill feel like a stroll through an art museum.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are home to more than a dozen murals that brighten the town and honor and celebrate the community.

Keep reading to learn more about Chapel Hill’s one-of-a-kind murals.

A mural of a chapel hill postcard.

The Greetings From Chapel Hill by Scott Nurkin

Visible from a Rosemary Street parking lot near the North Columbia Street intersection, the mural is a replica of a 1947 postcard by German illustrator Curt Teich. After contacting his estate, Nurkin was given permission to paint the mural with a Chapel Hill theme. Nurkin, a Carolina alumnus, says that the idea behind the mural was to provide a photo spot for Chapel Hill visitors.

Two people walk in an alley with a mural of puzzle pieces on the side.

Jigsaw Puzzle by Michael Brown

The Jigsaw Puzzle mural was designed by Carolina alumnus Brown using four giant puzzle pieces made out of cardboard that could interlock with each other on all sides. The sky of the mural was painted in Carolina Blue on one side of the wall, with the darker blue colors of Duke University painted on the other wall, although the colors have faded over the years.

When Brown and his team of artist interns reached a certain height on both sides of the wall, they left it unfinished like a typical jigsaw puzzle. After they stopped in the alleyway by Varsity Theatre, Brown told his team to take the cardboard puzzle pieces and go all over Chapel Hill and Carrboro to ask business owners if they could paint one puzzle piece on their building to play into the idea that the puzzle in the alleyway is only halfway finished, with the other pieces scattered all over the area. The interns never told Brown where they ended up painting the other pieces, and every now and then, he spots a different puzzle piece.

A person standing in front a mural of African American trailblazers.

African American Trailblazers by Kiara Sanders

Painted on the side of the building at 111 South Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill, this mural highlights 12 residents who were instrumental in improving the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities.The Town of Chapel Hill and alumnae members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority had been discussing a new public art piece that would honor local, unsung civic leaders in the African American community, and after submitting a proposal, Sanders was chosen as the artist for the project.

Sanders said that when a person with ties to the community is passing by the mural, she wants them to have a feeling of home and pride. For visitors, she hopes the mural will spur the viewer to look up the names listed on the mural to discover more about the people who helped pave the way for others in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities and who should never be forgotten.

A mural with hip-hop culture icons on it

The South Got Something To Say by Artie Barksdale

This hip-hop-themed mural created by artist Artie Barksdaleadorns a building on Henderson Street. The creation of the mural coincided with the first ever Hip Hop South Festival hosted by Carolina Performing Arts in April of 2022. The festival featured events on campus and in the surrounding community.

“The South Got Something to Say” is a quote from rapper/musician Andre 3000 of OutKast, which is the theme for the mural. The mural features images and icons of hip-hop music and culture, including a microphone, a demo tape and a drum machine. The site of the mural on Henderson Street was chosen because it is near a former hip-hop club called “The Hideaway,” where many Southern musicians stopped while on tour.

A mural of Elizabeth Cotton

Elizabeth Cotten by Scott Nurkin

This mural of folk and blues musician Elizabeth Cotten was painted on a building at 111 North Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill. It is a part of an ongoing series called the “North Carolina Musicians Murals Project,” which highlights famous musicians from North Carolina in their respective birthplaces.

Cotten was born in Chapel Hill, not too far from where this mural now stands.

A person runs past a mural of a pencil.

The Pencil by Michael Brown

Painted on a wall on Henderson Street in Chapel Hill, the Pencil mural was inspired when Brown threw his pencil down in frustration because he couldn’t come up with an idea. Brown said that when he looked down at the pencil with the upside-down lettering, he knew he had his idea for the wall. The upside-down lettering on the pencil also allowed the mural to steer clear of a Chapel Hill sign ordinance.