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Local artist designs mural for Ballad

By SERINA MARSHALL
Staff Writer [email protected]

Local artist Bill Bledsoe honored healthcare workers Thursday when he unveiled a mural at the Johnson City Medical Center.

“My wife Jennifer worked at Ballad for over two years, and they gave her several responsibilities because of the COVID epidemic,” Bledsoe said. “And she ended up working with a lot of different people; security, screeners, everybody. She really got attached to them and had such respect for the work they were doing under such duress, taking into consideration the situation.”

The CEO of the medical center, Kenny Shafer, got the idea to do some sort of artwork to commemorate the effort of the team members, according to Bledsoe. That’s when Bledsoe’s wife brought up that her husband was an artist that did murals.

“She talked to Kenny about maybe doing a mural and having team members submit ideas for the mural that they thought would capture their experience,” Bledsoe said. “Then Jennifer said to me that it would be great that they not just submit their ideas, but actually get to paint on the mural. The idea came from a mural I did in Jonesborough by the farmer’s market, where I came up with the composition and I let children paint on it like a coloring book, then I went back in and redefined everything.”

For the medical center, Bledsoe said he did the same thing. He created the composition, put it on aluminum board that you can paint on inside so you’re not subject to the weather, then team members would come paint on it at their leisure.

“So, it wasn’t just me going in all on my own and nobody knew what was going on,” Bledsoe said. “They gave me an old operating room at Ballad, I made a studio out of

it, and everything was set up here. Doing the composition was my first major responsibility.”

Bledsoe adds that he didn’t just approach this project from an artistic viewpoint, but a sentimental one as well, as it was personal to him.

“My mother, Tobie Bledsoe, was a surgical nurse for 45 years and she was the first-generation graduate in her family, and she went to St. Mary’s Nursing School in Knoxville and was valedictorian,” he said. “She then came back here to nurse, and she was a head floor nurse for Memorial Hospital, then became head surgical nurse at Northside Hospital, then she retired at the specialty hospital. So, she worked in the medical profession here in East Tennessee her entire adult life, and we grew up in it.”

To honor his mother and her work for not just the medical field, but the community, Bledsoe wanted to make her prominent in his mural.

“When I did the presentation and made the mock-up of it, my mother’s face is the most prominent part of the whole thing, which is wonderful for me,” he said. “My mother died three years ago, and she was such a dynamic person. She was loved by everybody. I cannot tell you the number of times that people who maybe hadn’t seen me since I was a child or didn’t even know me, when they ask my name, they ask if I am related to Tobie Bledsoe, and I say that’s my mom. More times than not, they know her because she took care of them when they were in the hospital. And their positive perspective on medicine, which is hard to find at times, is because of her. She loved nursing; it was her passion.”

Additionally, the mural shows a depiction of a doctor with multiple arms holding the Staff for Medicine ward- ing off death, each sleeve painted a different color to represent different departments at the hospital. Behind him, a blown-up image of the Coronavirus, with typography that says, “Defend to heal.”

“I pulled all these mottos that they use at the hospital; commitment, compassion, methodology, love and defend to heal,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing here. We’re saying to people we are going to defend you, to heal you, within the capacity that we know how. So that image became the center of it.”

Foster Signs in Jonesborough helped Bledsoe with transport and installation of the pieces needed for the mural and he said he is so appreciative to them for all their time, assistance and support.