‘Grocery lady’ paints the town

Published 12:56 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

WOODLAND — Penny Beasley is painting the town…one building at a time.

In the past few years, Beasley has painted murals on the sides of two buildings in the heart of Woodland.

The latest is a depiction of the Old Well, a landmark at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on an exterior brick wall of Attorney Charles Vaughan’s office.

Beasley first brought art to the side of a metal building behind the Woodland Supermarket, which she and her husband own and operate.

“Most people say, ‘Hey grocery lady, I didn’t know you could paint’,” she said about the reaction to the murals.

Though her first mural painted in town came in 2005, her passion for painting began when she was a young child growing up in Plymouth.

Beasley recalled settling down in her family’s living room with a set of Encyclopedias as her mom watched “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

“I would sketch the presidents,” she remembered.

When Beasley was done she would show her mother, a painter herself, who gave her approval on the sketches.

At the age of 16, Beasley moved to Woodland to live with her grandparents and to attend Northeast Academy in Lasker.

There she met her husband, Stewart, and 14 years ago they purchased the Woodland Supermarket.

In 2005, Beasley suddenly was inspired to paint.

“I told my husband, I’m going to paint the side of a building,” she said.

With some donated paint, Beasley set to work, creating a mural of the Rainbow Row in Charleston on a metal building behind her family’s store.

During breaks from the store, Beasley painted the scene using a photo of the colorful colonial buildings that line East Bay Street in the South Carolina city.

Her latest creation, the Old Well, was commissioned by Vaughan in celebration of UNC’s basketball team capturing this year’s NCAA tournament championship.

The Old Well, constructed in 1887, was once the only source of water at the University. It’s now a fountain where students line up on the first day of classes to take a drink as tradition says it will bring them good luck.

Beasley added her own touch to the scene, expanding it to include the near-by Old East Dormitory in the background and a dirt path leading to the well instead of today’s brick path.

For the Old Well scene, Beasley often had an audience—the employees at Southern Bank—watching each stroke of the brush.

While any observer can appreciate the vibrant colors of Beasley’s murals, the artist herself can only pinpoint certain bright colors.

The reason? Beasley is color blind.

“Brown and green look the same to me,” she said.

Beasley said her brother-in-law, who has a background in art, would often assist her on color shades while she was working on the Rainbow Row mural.

But being incapable of distinguishing the two colors has not interfered with Beasley’s artistic ability or her desire to paint more murals.

In fact, something may be in the works for another mural by Beasley.

“If I did (the project) it would be the biggest yet,” she said. “I would like to do more.”

For now, Beasley’s two murals stand as a talking point and as an attraction in town.

“It brings a little bit of interest to an old town,” she said. “As they would say paint the town, why not make it look a little bit better?”