Over the summer of 2020, Australian visual artist Guido van Helten brought to life a photo-realistic mural on the façade of Canvas Tower, an office building in downtown Greenville. Commissioned by developer The Beach Company as part of the building’s redevelopment, the mural’s subject was kept under wraps until it’s unveiling August 26.
During a press conference at Canvas Tower, the company and artist introduced Greenville resident and beloved former educator Pearlie Harris as the mural’s subject.
Harris was a pioneer in the state’s school system, serving as the only Black teacher at an all-white school, except for one Black child, until the county formally integrated in 1970. After overcoming years of discrimination from parents and students, Harris persevered and ultimately touched the lives of countless children over her 32-year career as an educator.
The permanent mural illustrates Harris flanked by several present-day students from AJ Whittenberg Elementary School to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Greenville schools’ desegregation this fall and pay homage to the value that one teacher can bring to generations of students.
Greenville County Schools finally integrated 16 years after segregation was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.
The Canvas Tower’s eight stories of windowless, washed out brick have been transformed into a striking work of art marking the western gateway into downtown.
Van Helten’s vision for the mural was to illustrate unity and diversity and to honor the integration era’s history, personalities and legacies.
When The Beach Company commissioned van Helten to create the mural in 2019, he immersed himself in the Greenville community to better understand its history and culture. It was during this visit that he was introduced to Pearlie Harris and later developed the mural concept and design.
“Her legacy as an educator during a pivotal time in history impacted thousands of students and helped shape Greenville into what it is today,” van Helten said at the unveiling. “Pearlie represents how education can influence progress, connectivity and diversity.”
The mural is an integral part of The Beach Company’s Canvas development, which includes both new construction and the office building renovation. Upon completion, Canvas will include 31 for-sale townhomes, 21,805 square feet of retail space and 48 for-rent apartments. Designed by architect Joe Antunovich of Chicago-based Antunovich Associates as a nod to Greenville’s roots, Canvas Lofts features a limited number of apartments designed with a traditional warehouse-style brick exterior with ground-level storefronts, steel-frame balconies and expansive windows.
“When The Beach Company set out to commission a mural, we wanted to create a place that honored the city’s culture and community for years to come,” John Darby, CEO, The Beach Company, said. “We are thrilled with Guido van Velten’s vision and artwork as it perfectly illustrates a unique and authentic sentiment while honoring the cultural spirit of Greenville.”