T-TOWN 200: LOCAL ARTIST RECREATES HISTORY
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Page Weinstein
As the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial celebration is underway, a local but world-renowned artist is being recognized for his continued contributions to the local art scene. Artist Caleb O’Connor is responsible for painting Alabama’s history on 16 murals in the Tuscaloosa Federal Courthouse, and now he’s got something big planned for the bicentennial celebration.
O’Connor said he saw Tuscaloosa’s mural offer in 2009 as much more than a job opportunity. He was committed to serving Alabama’s residents through his artwork.
His family moved from Chicago to Tuscaloosa so he could get a better understanding of the community and begin the research process. The research process took about half a year and included traveling the state of Alabama and interviewing many historians.
O’Connor said it’s impossible to condense Alabama’s history into 16 murals. The Courthouse Committee originally gave him 24 influential moments in state and local history, which he researched and sketched out before presenting his ideas. They then narrowed down the potential murals into their final ideas.
He is known as an authentic artist because he uses live models. O’Connor believed including local residents in his murals would make waves in the community.
“To use the living history, people around us, the people that are from Tuscaloosa now, I think that’s equally important. In fact, I think it’s probably more honest than anything else,” O’Connor said. “I wanted to engage the community in the project. I wanted them to feel part of it. And so to have them pose in it, to have them be part of it, they became part of it.”
O’Connor said using live models was the most memorable part of the process.
“I had painted a World War II homecoming scene and I saw a gentleman named Saul, and he was 92. and he brought three generations of his family to see himself in this portrait. And that was highly touching, I mean how much more can you be part of an art project then that” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said he fell in love with the Tuscaloosa community while he was working on the project, and after the murals were completed, he and his family decided to stay in Tuscaloosa. He said believes three things are important when picking a new hometown.
“I need to be learning something new. I need to feel like what i’m doing is important or relevant and giving to others. And it needs to sustain my family,” O’Connor said.
It’s heartwarming to see the impact that the murals have had on the community, he said.