05/18/08 — Carson memorial painted

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Carson memorial painted

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on May 18, 2008 2:02 AM

"I love UNC. I love the quad in the spring and the arboretum in the fall.

"I love the Pit on a sunny day and Graham Memorial Lounge on a rainy one.

"I love Roy all the time. But what makes UNC truly special is not our beautiful campus, our distinguished reputation or even our basketball team. It's us -- the student body -- who make UNC what it is."

When Dr. Margaret "Peggy" Jablonski, vice chancellor for student affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, read the quote attributed to slain student president Eve Marie Carson, "the four images of the campus kind of jumped out at me," she said. "I thought, 'That would make a really nice painting.'"

And she knew who to ask to do it.

Brenda Behr of Goldsboro, who has done paintings for the university before, was called and asked to create a memorial artwork that would be done in Ms. Carson's memory and presented privately to her parents. Ms. Carson was scheduled to graduate this past Sunday, but her tragic death prevented that.

The hope was that Ms. Behr's artwork would remind Ms. Carson's parents of how important she was to the school.

In addition to that painting, 2,000 posters of the watercolor were produced, with most being placed for sale in the campus store. Proceeds go to the Eve Carson Memorial Fund for scholarships.

Dr. Jablonski said Ms. Behr was a good choice for the commission because "she captures the Carolina spirit in her paintings. She uses vibrant colors, a flowing kind of form in her watercolors. ... I feel she captures the essence of Carolina ..."

Among Ms. Behr's commissions has been a painting of Franklin Street and one entitled "Midday at the Pit, UNC."

But this one was the most meaningful.

At Dr. Jablonski's request, student union director Don Luse contacted Ms. Behr on March 11 -- less than a week after Ms. Carson's murder -- and asked her to do the memorial artwork.

"I was stunned," she said. "It is such a great honor."

Ms. Behr was told that the university wanted the work to feature Ms. Carson's quote and the four places she named in it.

The artist asked Luse to send her as much information about Ms. Carson "as possible because I wanted to know who this woman was."

She also went to UNC a few times to tour and do some paintings of three of the mentioned places. (One was done from a photograph.)

The more time she spends with a place, the better she knows it. And, the better she knows it, "the more confidence you have with which to paint it," she said.

Ms. Behr wanted to connect with Ms. Carson "in terms of her experience. I wanted to see these places through her eyes."

During one of her visits to UNC, Ms. Behr and Luse were given a tour of Coker Arboretum by its director, Dr. Peter White. While they were there, some students pointed out to them what they thought Ms. Carson's favorite spot was.

That helped, Ms. Behr said.

One thing she noticed as she toured the different locations and considered what they were like during the seasons and weather mentioned in the quote was that Ms. Carson liked the places best when they were filled with people.

When Ms. Behr visited the quad on a sunny day, "there were wall-to-wall people on the grass -- studying, walking dogs, sunning and reading," she said. "On a beautiful day, the place is alive."

Ms. Carson "was a very social person," Ms. Behr said.

As an artist, that fact was welcome because Ms. Behr loves putting people in her paintings.

The memorial artwork has four paintings and thus was a larger single project than usual for Ms. Behr. She worked on it at the same time as she prepared original paintings for a show in Raleigh.

Assisting her were two local businesses: Karen's Custom Framing, which did the four-window mat for the project, and Graphixx Screen Printing, which silk screened the quote onto the mat.

The completed work was 30 inches by 30 inches, with each painting being 81/2 by 11 inches.

As the UNC project came to a conclusion, Ms. Behr found herself feeling sad. This was not only because the reason for the project itself was sad, but because she had to let go of a work that had been such a focus of hers for the last several weeks.

But there is comfort in knowing that this work will serve as a reminder to Ms. Carson's parents, who received it this weekend, of the campus their daughter loved so much.