Get to Know The Dill About The 2022 NC Pickle Festival Mural Artist!

Like most festivals, the yearly t-shirt artwork is a big deal to choose. Our shirts get worn for years by festival patrons and this year’s artwork is quite special and unique. Seraphim Smith created the pickle jar mural in downtown Mount Olive and we thought it was the perfect depiction of Mount Olive Pickles.

To help you get to know Seraphim Smith better, we did a little Q & A with him and found out some very interesting facts!

Q: How long have you been painting and have you been doing murals the whole time?

A: I am now 43 years old and I have been painting with oil paints, acrylics and watercolors for 30 years. I had won an art contest for a watercolor I created when I was only 13 years old. I grew up in a woodshop and would draw the kitchens my dad would work on at 18 months old. 

Since then, my parents knew I was very artistic and thankfully encouraged that side. I would go to work with my father who would build wooden pieces such as cabinets, vanities and mantles and I would see him drawing at his drafting table, sketching the plan for his next piece. My mother would have an oil painting up in the corner of the living room, so from both sides I was lucky to be able to see art getting made.

It was a childhood passion to be on PBS because I loved Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. I am grateful that I was able to become a producer on the PBSNC (UNC-TV) show, “North Carolina Weekend”, in 2020. Now that my mother lives with me, I draw her patterns for her stained-glass windows after my father, who used to draw them for her, has since passed. I have been doing outdoor murals since 2020 and I am lined up to do three more. I am very grateful for the opportunities to do the large scale artwork. 

Q: Where are you originally from and what brought you to NC? 

A: I am originally from Nashville, TN and I left when I was 26 years old. I first moved to Durham, NC because I fell in love with the farm to table scene of the restaurants. I then moved to Kinston, NC in 2016 to work at Chef and the Farmer restaurant and I stayed because of two things.

First, the people here were so very kind and are like a village. It was comforting to be out in a strange land and bumping into people I had seen before at the grocery store. I can go anywhere in Kinston and see people that I know which is very grounding to me.

The second reason is because I have been able to marry all of the parts of myself into a career. This career has been able to take me all over Eastern North Carolina and I am starting to get calls for work in the Triangle area. I am thankful to be able to live in Kinston but still stretch my work across to different areas of the state. 

Q: It looks like you have done other food related murals around North Carolina. What inspires you to do this type of artwork?

A: When I was taking Southern Literature 20 years ago, my teacher said, “Write about what you know” – it seems quite simple, and it is, but what happens when you write about what you know is that a type of truth flows out of you – the work can be more honest. I ended up getting my degree in fine art, painting specifically, but I never forgot what I had learned as an English major. That is why I paint about what I know.  

When I started out as an art student, I began working in restaurants and ended up working for 17 years as a driver, waiter, cook, sous chef, dishwasher and marketing director. I worked for some great people and after moving to North Carolina, I spent 10 years in the field and got my second degree in Culinary Business. During that time, my boss found out I was a painter and asked me to make a mural at the School of Divinity at Duke. I had created the logo of a vineyard and so that became my subject matter for the mural. Later, I made a mural of the same theme at the school of Law at Duke. I found the challenge of covering such a large space thrilling. 

In 2016, when I moved to Kinston, I came to work at the best restaurant in NC – Chef and the Farmer. After my internship ended, I joined the SmART program and have been a part of it for 5 years now. I was encouraged by Sandy Landis of the Arts Council to have a show and the program bought me several large canvases that I was able to paint different veggies and pictures of our beautiful North Carolina farm land on. The towns mural program was afoot in 2020 and I was one of 8 finalists. I had to prove my submission so I did a large outdoor food mural.

Q: Is there a specific inspiration behind the pickle jars in your mural?

A: After doing the okra mural, I approached Julie Beck, the chamber president of Mount Olive, and said “Hey! I want to paint a giant pickle in downtown Mount Olive!” She was a fan of the idea but after talking to some people, I was informed that a painting of a giant pickle might not go over well with everyone so I regrouped and had an epiphany to paint the different pickle jars! 

I tried different background colors like green and lime green but ended up with one of my favorite colors I call salmon bubblegum. After I convinced Julie Beck to let me paint the wall such an outlandish color, I got the green light. 

Q: Where is the mural located?

A: The mural is on the corner of Main and Center Streets. The decision to put it there was because of the integrity of the wall structure and we were able to get permission from the University to paint there. 

Q: Do you love to eat pickles as well as paint them? 

A: I am especially fond of pickled cherry peppers, pepperoncinis, gherkins, cornichons, and the pickled Vidalia salad. I must have pickles on any sub sandwich that I make, which may be my favorite way to eat them. I even have a special pickle recipe that is going to be released on the Mount Olive Pickle social media soon! 

Q: How did you feel getting your artwork chosen for the t-shirt this year?

A: I was flabbergasted, astounded and pleased!!! I am honored they put my signature on it and I am so thrilled and grateful. This will be my first pickle festival but I am excited to attend and even sell my artwork on flour sack towels at a booth. 

Make sure to stop by the 2022 North Carolina Pickle Festival in April and take a photo in front of the now infamous pickle jar mural. We will have it blocked off for photo ops so don’t forget to walk down to the corner of Main and Center street to see it in person. Of course, thank you to Seraphim Smith for using Mount Olive pickles as inspiration for such a fun piece of local art.