Few communities in North Carolina have embraced the arts quite like Chapel Hill. The city’s residents were their hearts on their sleeves. Or, rather, on their walls. Many Chapel Hill apartments, shops, and even tunnels are adorned with huge, colorful murals that make even the most leisurely stroll around town feel like a trip to a prestigious art museum.
Tourists come from all over the state, and even from other sides of the country, to see Chapel Hill’s murals up close and in living color. For anyone thinking about exploring the city’s many, many, many murals, here are five you simply cannot miss.
Greetings from Chapel Hill
Location: behind the He’s Not Here bar at 112 1/2 W. Franklin Street
The single most photographed site in the entire city, Greetings from Chapel Hill is a giant-sized reproduction of a 1941 postcard by German illustrator Curt Teich. It depicts a number of the area’s most iconic buildings framed with the letters of the city’s name, surrounded by curling vines of delicate white flowers set against a vivid blue backdrop.
Bolin Creek Tunnel
Location: Bolin Creek Trail, beneath Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
One of Chapel Hill’s new addition to its ever-growing collection of public art, the Bolin Creek Tunnel sports an eye-popping graffiti-style celebration of local flora and fauna in the form of lushly colored scenes of animals, including a huge, winding snake, with bodies made of leaves and flowers instead of flesh and fur.
Paint-by-Numbers Football Team
Location: the exterior of Pantana Bob’s pub at 150 E. Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill locals don’t just take art seriously. They’re also passionate about area sports teams, most notably the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, whose players are immortalized in this uniquely creative mural by artists Michael Brown, who is responsible for many of the city’s most famous artworks. What makes it stand out is the way Brown incorporated the actual painting of the mural into the mural itself, leaving portions of the football figures not yet “colored in” and adding details such as ladder-climbing painters hard at work finishing what he started. It’s fooled more than a few passers-by over the years.
Walking up the Wall
Location: the west side of the Bank of America Building at 100 East Rosemary Street
Another Michael Brown original, that like his football mural takes an inventive, fourth-wall-breaking approach by presenting a bird’s eye view of several pedestrians standing, walking, and talking to each other down on the “street below.” These aren’t just any pedestrians, though, but actual Chapel Hill residents who were able to secure a spot in the mural by making a donation to the city’s Downtown Partnership.
The Parade of Humanity
Location: the west wall of the Carolina Coffee Shop at 138 E. Franklin Street
Inspired by the wood carvings that once adorned the Circus Room, a much-beloved but sadly long-shuttered soda fountain shop that was previously a popular meeting spot for students on the University of Carolina Campus. Overflowing with patriotic imagery and Chapel Hill in-jokes, the Parade of Humanity stands apart as one of the most the city’s most distinctive murals.
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