Alumnus presents mule to CH students
by Jennifer Cohron
May 09, 2014 | 1579 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARBON HILL — The newest member of the 50 Mule Team Public Art Project was unveiled Tuesday at Carbon Hill High School.

CHHS alumnus Dr. James Gray sponsored “Rastovius,” the 56th fiberglass mule to be included in the Walker County Arts Alliance’s popular program.

Gray now lives in Dearborn, Michigan, and is an instructor at Henry Ford Community College.

He discovered the mules that dot the county when he returned to Carbon Hill last year for his 50th high school reunion.

A picture of the original high school that burned in 2002 is part of the design that Gray and artist Billie Jo Phillips Cooper collaborated on over the past six months.

Gray also asked Cooper to paint bus 66, which he rode to school for four years.

“One day, the bus was partially empty, and I was so tired that I just laid over in the seat and dozed off. The next thing I know, a coal truck hit the bus and coal flies through the bus. If I had been sitting up, maybe I wouldn’t be here today,” Gray said during Tuesday’s assembly program.

Rastovius features other tributes to Carbon Hill athletics and arts education, the Carbon Hill band members who represented Alabama at President John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and former teacher and science club sponsor Mary Clifford Ray.

Gray also requested that Cooper include images of scientist George Washington Carver, who became one of his inspirations while working on a high school book report, and a scroll of First Corinthians 2:9.

“It says only the spirit knows the spirit, and only the spirit of man knows man. As a scientist, that has meant so much to me,” Gray said. “I believe there is a spiritual realm, and I believe there is the physical earth. As a scientist, I deal with evolution, photosynthesis, chemistry or physiology and anatomy, but I’m not there to question the spiritual realm.”

During the presentation of Rastovius to the student body Tuesday morning, Gray gave special credit to Cooper for turning his vision into a work of art.

“I recognize that there is no art without the artist. Money doesn’t make art,” Gray said. “I even asked her to paint in script. I was always afraid to ask her to do just one more thing, but she never hedged. She graciously followed through.”

Rastovius is the fifth mule that Cooper has painted for the public art project.

She is also the artist responsible for Heritage, the mule for Cordova whose design became a tribute to the city following the tornadoes of April 2011.

Cooper, a resident of Cordova at the time, lost her home in the storm.

While Cooper was finishing up her work on Rastovius, her granddaughter passed away.

“I’ve been through many trials with these mules,” Cooper said. “Every one of them has carried me through what I did not think I could make it through. For some reason, God put these mules in my life because he knew what I would be going through at the time I had one.”

Cooper also shared a life lesson with students about the importance of education.

She went back to school while her children were still at home and earned a master’s degree five years ago.

“But I do not work in the field that I have my master’s degree in because I came back to what I love to do, which is to share my art,” Cooper said.

Rastovius will be at Art in the Park Saturday and will then be on permanent display at Carbon Hill High School.