Oak City Hustle
North Carolina Rail Ties with Thelonious Monk

North Carolina Rail Ties with Thelonious Monk

In celebration of the North Carolina born Thelonious Monk’s birthday I am reposting a dedication piece I created a few years back. Here is to one of North Carolina’s finest…



I just received an email from the Visual Art Exchange looking for artists to submit a piece for the the May First Friday exhibit titled “Unfettered”. For quite a while now I have wanted to do a series of portraits that are painted on found objects from the birthplace of the subject. Given the title of the show and the geography involved, I am going to do a portrait of jazz legend Thelonious Monk. He was born about an hour from here in Rocky Mount, NC. I have gotten a hold of the Rocky Mount City historian and have been able to narrow in on the address of his home when he was born. My goal is to find something….. anything….. hopefully something substantial that I can paint.

Here’s the catch.

It’s due Friday.

It is end of day Wednesday as I type this.

I am also up to my neck in some severely stressful times in my life. It seems like everything is closing in on me fast……. and this deadline figured it would jump on board as well. In typical Seano fashion, I will look to gain a sense of control over things by diving headfirst into a highly challenging project that only allows a thin sliver of opportunity to complete the task efficiently. I love it.

I will be early-birdin it and setting out to Rocky Mount at 5am. I figure I’ll get in around 6, find my way to the spot around 6:30(sunrise), complete my scavenging by 7. Grab a bite at a local spot and head back to be in Chapel Hill right on time at 8:30. Let’s go!

The Research:

Thelonious-Monk-Birth-CertificateOnce I figured out what I was going to do, I needed to figure our HOW I was going to do it. I was able to find out that Theloniuos was born in Rocky Mount but were talking about the year 1917…..in rural NC. I called up the City of Rocky Mount and left messages for the city historian. I was hoping he may be able to direct me to the house that his family lived in when he was born. In the meantime I was able to dig up his birth certificate but the address that was listed didn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately I needed to move faster than the historian could get back to me so I started pursuing other avenues.
Thelonious-monk-parkI was able to pull up a few articles that were written about Monks Southern roots. None of them directed me to the spot where the house was but one did have photographs of an official “Thelonious S. Monk Park” that was listed as sitting “about 100 yards” from the place where he lived. I looked up the park in the Rocky Mount Parks & Recreation website and found an address. From there I was able to triangulate the spot I was looking for. Google maps, print, lets go.

The Mission:

The alarm was set for 3 but after stressfully watching the Sixers blow Game 2 against the Magic the night before, it was a little rough going. I grabbed my things and hit the road at 5am. The ride was swift, meditative and suprisingly theraputic. I was driving east so I was blessed with a journey directly into the patiently glowing sunrise. I had “‘Round Midnight” on blast and I was feeling very good about the moment.

I arrived in Rocky Mount just as the sun was producing enough light to allow me to scavenge a bit. I followed an attractive set of train tracks for a while and found two solid pieces of wood. The first was my ideal pick: weathered, rugged, peaceful, and colorful. The main problem was that it looked like it could be the apartment complex for a host of little critters and cruds. I found a fairly standard piece of wood that was in a pile with some discarded railway bars. That will act as my backup just in case the critters ruin the show.

After I collected my wood, I got back in the car, followed the remaining directions, and found myself looped around and sitting about 100 feet from the spot where I found the wood. Perfect.

Check out a collection of the photos that I took from the mission:










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The Execution (ironically titled):

I had what I thought to be, a sound plan.

1-Get a drawing down

2-Stain the wood to set the color base for the painting

3-Detail the illustration by using color pencils

4-Seal up the piece using a polyurethane

All was going well until I hit step 4. All of the detail work got wiped away when I applied the polyurethane. It sucks. This happened at 3am. So, I slept on it.

When I woke up I had a new vision and a revised drive to complete the piece. Today is the deadline so I am truly hoping that I can get a subtle adjustment to the delivery date. I’m looking for first thing in the morning. If I can swing that, I’m golden.

I picked myself out of bed, took the piece outside, spraypainted the whole thing black, and started fresh. I am going to execute with a much cleaner, simplified style of rendering. No pencils and lots of paint. Lets see if I can swing this.









The Finish

It turns out that the deadline wasn’t until Saturday at 4 so I had that extension that I was hoping for.

I followed the natural lines that the wood had created and painted in a set of piano keys. Once it was dry, I taped it off and got out the spray paint. I wanted the piano keys to have a more textured feel and fall into the background a bit. I pulled the tape, touched up the keys and the white shell and felt good about things. I cautiously attached the gear so it could be hung. I was crazy nervous that the wood would split but those old rail-ties hold strong as hell. It held and we were good to go. I added a few heres-and-theres, stood back and was happy with how it turned out. If this piece gets purchased, they will end up (unknowingly) getting two paintings for one. Lessons learned.











Sean Kernick

Sean brings a mix of social consciousness, inspiration and creative connection to his life as a family man, artist, social organizer, producer, creative director and co-founder. “Family, friendship, and artwork are the pillars that keep my foundation secure. I am always looking to expand and explore all forms of artistic expression.”

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