“It’s only paint” is a favorite mantra of interior designers.
They use the phrase to explain how simple it is to spruce up an area with color, and if you change your mind or make a mistake, the problem is simple to correct.
Artist Deborah Mansfield of West Point, along with a team of other volunteers with West Point Main Street, and local business owners, are using paint as the centerpiece of the transformation they are bringing to the city’s downtown.
“It all started with the Sally Kate Winters recreation room, where we brought kids together to have fun and get a project done,” Mansfield said.
Using her West Main Street studio, gallery and workshop – Deborah Mansfield Decorative Painting – as the base for their projects, Mansfield and the team have completed a number of colorful murals on buildings throughout the city that reveal the history, character and spirit of the community.
“The mural you see as you drive into town from the east includes seven icons from the community,” Mansfield said.
As she surveyed the length of downtown Main Street, the self-taught artist and professionally trained landscape designer had a vision of how the various storefront facades could be transformed to make it more inviting and attractive with minor renovations, a few coats of paint and some planter boxes.
She prepared a watercolor rendering of both sides of Main Street as she envisioned them, and her ideas lit a spark among the business owners.
“Some of the owners became inspired and started doing some things on their own,” Mansfield said.
One early project included painting the facades at 106, 110 and 116 Main Street, and a mural on the west wall of the laundry and dry cleaners there.
“I had this idea for a stormy scene with a clothes line with laundry hanging on it, and the owner gave me the OK to do it,” Mansfield said. “I put my dog in the scene sitting on the ground beneath the clothes line.”
The businesses that liked her designs and wanted to move forward with painting projects paid for the paint, and she and volunteers did most of the work. Other business owners did their own.
Kathy Dyess was her partner in completing the Howlin’ Wolf mural at the west end of town, and her assistant Lila Miller has put in many hours and much effort with the numerous other projects the group has done.
“We’ve used student volunteers as well as some inmate labor on some of the projects as well,” Mansfield said.
The 56-year-old artist is doing these projects in her semi-retirement, having sold her decorative painting design business of 20 years in Houston, Texas.
Her husband, Jim Mansfield, also sold his landscape design business in Houston, and the couple moved to West Point about four years ago.
“We were looking for a small town near a university where my husband could teach a class or two, and where we could live on a golf course so he could pursue his passion,” Mansfield said. “We found all that in West Point, and he teaches a class in the landscape architecture program at Mississippi State. We love it here.”
The two met at Ohio State University, where they both studied landscape architecture.
Mansfield said her father thought she needed a practical profession instead of majoring in art, so she completed her bachelor’s degree and worked in the field of landscape architecture for nine years before pursuing her first love – art.
“I’ve love it since second grade, when I took a pastel class, and I still have my first painting from that class,” Mansfield said.
She started decorative painting as a stay-at-home mom to two boys. She painted little pots for a friend who made cookie bouquets and wanted the pots for her business.
“From there I was asked to do murals for baby rooms in homes,” Mansfield said. “I didn’t know if I could do it or not, but I just went for it. My philosophy was, ‘remember, it’s only paint.’ By the time I decided to retire I had 10 people who worked with me, traveling around the country to serve our clients, mostly in Texas, but in other parts of the country too.”
Even in retirement Mansfield has kept some of those clients to keep active in her profession, along with opening the studio in West Point.
There, Mansfield offers classes for youths and adults that include painting, drawing, sculpting and more, as well as studio time for individuals who want to use the studio for their own painting projects. Her studio also is available for painting parties – days, evenings, weekends – and she reimagines vintage furniture with hand painting and new combinations of upholstery to create fresh looks.
Indulging her wide-ranging interests, Mansfield paints dog portraits along with her faux finishing work and murals.
“I’m self-taught in oils, which is my passion,” Mansfield said. “What I love is to find black and white pictures to paint as color images, and I have several that I’ve done representative of this area in various sizes in my studio.”