The arts education organization Raw Canvas debuts a new mural of Olympic legend and track star Jesse Owens debuts this week in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. For 17-year-old Arieona Burse, completing the project was emotional.
“I literally cried,” she said. “It was just like excitement, like an adrenaline rush because you work this hard, and you finally made it, and then everybody else gets to see it.”
Artists Robert A. Ketchens and William Burton Jr. run Raw Canvas and helped their students complete the project. The project began in February as part of a Black History Month celebration, but completion was slightly delayed due to weather. They chose Owens for the mural for his ability to transcend humble beginnings and achieve greatness. Ketchens said he hopes an image of Owens can speak to the community.
“If a share-cropper's son can overcome social ills such as racism, poverty and despair, so can they,” said Ketchens.
Jesse Owens, born James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens, was a four time Olympic gold-winning athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The Olympics took place during the rise of the Nazis, and Owens' success significantly discredited Hitler’s insistence on white superiority. The previous year Owens set three world records in under an hour at a Big Ten Conference track and field meet. This feat has been called "the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport" by Sports Illustrated.
During the project’s unveiling ceremony, Burse was joined by Darryl Reece, another Raw Canvas student. Reece said the project challenged him to push the scale of his own work and “definitely not to be afraid to go big with some of my other artwork.”
As Burse and Reece discussed the project, they agreed the experience of completing the project inspired a new desire to focus on collaboration. They even finished each other’s sentences.
“I would definitely have to say it makes me want to get together with other artists more often,” said Reece. “I feel like it’s just better,”
“When you can work with more people instead of working alone,” continued Burse
“And bounce ideas off each other,” finished Reece.
Raw Canvas will continue their mural program but Ketchens is unsure when the next project will begin. The Jesse Owens mural can be found at the corner of North 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue across from Crown Candy.