Written by Jerrod Niles
Across the greater Chattanooga area lies fertile soil which farmers nurture to cultivate life. Their soil is the vehicle to meet many beyond their own sphere — even the art world.
Local Chattanooga artist Amanda Brazier has been painting solely with pigments pulled from soil for the past 14 years. Holly Martin, owner of Gaining Grounds Grocery saw the potential to connect Brazier’s unique art medium with her mission to create a sustainable grocery alternative for Chattanooga’s food desert.
As soon as it was proposed to Brazier, she had an immediate and organic idea. “When [Martin] approached me about the idea of a mural connecting all these ideas, I mean it just came to me immediately.”
Brazier knew she could take the soil from Chattanooga farmers and create a beautiful mural for the grocery store.
The idea was to create a mural that is made of pigments from local sources as well as farms that provide inventory to Gaining Grounds Grocery. Then began the rush to gather soil from Chattanooga farmers, community gardens and other local means. Brazier and Martin gathered a list of over 10 farms that supply the store with their produce and took to the fields to gather soil.
Brazier interviewed the farmers about the history of the lands they work and what connects them to the soil under their fingernails.
“It’s a life blood. Without the soil and beautiful greenery and forage it provides, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” explains Mack Haynes of the Ocoee Creamery, one of the many farms Brazier visited.
Creating the paint for the mural was one of the toughest parts of the process. Brazier usually creates her paint to be water based, but needed to change her medium to fit the project. To create a durable and long-lasting mural, she chose to use acrylic paint.
“I’ve learned from this experience and most of what I’ve learned is that making acrylic paint from these soil pigments is tricky. Every dirt is different and requires lots of time to understand how much of each [ingredient] is required.”
To engage the community in this process, the first day of painting began with a community paint day at Gaining Grounds Grocery store. Many members of the local area joined and got the base layers on the mural laid down, but it left Brazierwith plenty of work to finish up in her studio. Luckily, she has two assistants and two bright-eyed sons to lend a hand.
With the mural finished, the final piece was revealed at Gaining Grounds Grocery. A reveal party was held at the Saint Andrews church where the grocery is located. Garnished with vegan foods and local dirt experts, the event was lively with new faces and like minded individuals.
The two-piece mural project hangs currently in the entrance hall of Gaining Grounds Grocery and inside the store itself. Alongside the mural is a key that associates each paint color with the location of the dirt that created that pigment.
The goal of The Field Below project was to connect the community with the local farmers that supply the grocery with produce. At the unveiling, community members, Brazier and the people who bring Gaining Grounds Grocery’s mission to life mingled and gathered to share a meal.
This artistic rendition of the connection between community, agriculture, and food reignites the appreciation of the substance we all walk upon.
Jerod Niles is a multimedia producer who specializes in camera operation and post-production. Niles has over 5 years of experience in media production and is always looking towards the future. He is currently working on multiple freelance jobs as well as a media internship for Wanderlinger Brewery. You can find more of his work as well as contact information on his portfolio here: https://www.jerrodniles.com/