Artist Heidi Pitre puts a face on public art installment

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Heidi Pitre had been spurred on for the past two years to paint something on the side of the Grove Transit building on Hardy Street across from the Hattiesburg Zoo. Painting something that large was a journey into the unknown for the New Orleans native now splitting time between Hattiesburg and Austin, Texas.

“I’ve done interior murals before and I paint large scale, but nothing like this,” she said last week as she looked over the finished product. “This was way beyond anything I’ve done. Toby (Barker, a fellow Avenues resident) asked me to do it two years ago and I said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m too old to be going that high; I’m going to break something. There’s no way I am going to do that.’ And he would not give up.”

So Pitre went through different designs.

“And now I am so proud of it and so happy that I did it,” she said. “I just love it. I love how it came out. It’s such a strong design.”

Included in the design, which features lines radiating from the center, are a mandala and a sloth, jaguar, owl and flamingo drawn from photographs.

“I think the mural has the whole strong kind of focal point,” Pitre said. “I think public art is so important and this not a statement on race on social status, but there are so many people who will never set foot in a museum in their entire lives. But it’s different when you put art in someone’s face. I have so many people thank me, give me compliments, are really thankful that it is here and are happy that Hattiesburg made it happen.”

Pitre said mural has a stronger impact on the people who live in that area of Hattiesburg.

“I think it brings the community together,” she said. “I think it makes the community feel like someone cares about the community.”

For Pitre, the community’s shining star is the Hattiesburg Zoo.

“The zoo has quality, even if it doesn’t have the size of other zoos,” she said. “You are not in a hurry to make sure you see everything. You can go to the zoo once a month and take your time. You can stroll through the zoo and enjoy it.

“The splash pad is worth the price of admission, especially during the hot summer days.”

After earning a bachelor in fine arts degree in painting from the University of New Orleans, Pitre began her career of art exhibits and spreading public art wherever she lived. She said she received a fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Council.

“The Hattiesburg Arts Council (which helped to sponsor the recent mural) has been very supportive,” she said. Other sponsors were the Hattiesburg Zoo, Visit Hattiesburg, the Avenues Association and Hattiesburg Alliance for the Arts.

Pitre insists that she has been welcomed to Mississippi.

“One thing I have always said is to create in Mississippi is to create among friends,” she said. “There is so much talent in this state that it is unbelievable. There so much talent just on my block – my neighbor has won a James Beard Award and my other neighbor is an art history professor.”

Pitre said she still has some tweaking to do on the mural, but the artwork is open for public display on the western side of the building.