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Wonder Walls

Story Slim Smith | Photographs Luisa Porter

Although in many respects Lorrin Webb is responsible for all five of the murals that have been painted around the Cotton District in Starkville over the past year, she painted just one of them.

Webb’s mural is located on the south wall of Bin 612 restaurant/bar. Compared to the other murals, it is small, unobtrusive. Painted in subdued hues, it features a series of intertwining vines and blossoms around a simple message that Webb has adopted as her own personal credo: “Bloom where you are planted.”

“That’s really the message I want to get out there,” says the 28-year-old artist, who with the blessing of business owners and the financial backing of the city of Starkville, has used the Cotton District as a canvas for muralists.

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Photographed by Luisa Porter.

“I walk around here and every building, to me, is a canvas,” she says. “I see a wall and I think, ‘Wow, that would be a great place for a mural.’”

In a little less than a year, Webb and Michael Roy, who goes by the name “birdcap,” have put their artistic stamp on the Cotton District, an area of town that trends toward the bohemian.

The grab bag of shops, restaurants, bars and housing dominated by Mississippi State students along University Drive just west of Mississippi State’s campus seems perfectly suited for birdcap’s wildly-expressive murals, which feature odd creatures, reminiscent of Mayan figures, painted in vibrant colors — think R. Crumb in a time machine.

The idea of starting a mural project in Starkville came as Webb considered her plans upon graduating from MSU in the spring of 2014. Armed with her degree in graphic design, Webb wanted to stay in Starkville to take advantage of the college’s entrepreneurial business incubator program. Through the program, Webb received assistance in setting up her business, Wanderite, which she calls an “eco-friendly screen-print and design studio.”

“My thought was, if I’m going to be here a while, I’d like to find a way to bring art to the area,” she says. “There are so many great artists in Mississippi, and so many of them leave the state to pursue their art, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

“I was surprised how receptive the city was,” she says. “I had prepared myself to really argue for it, but as it turned out, they were like, ‘OK. Sure!’ The city has been very, very supportive.”

Then, there was Dan Camp, the “King of the Cotton District,” whose enthusiasm for the project rivaled Webb’s. Two of the five murals are painted on Camp-owned businesses.

“Dan’s been so supportive,” Webb says. “At first, I was worried about what the older generation here in Starkville would think about it, but Dan gave us his blessing from the start, and he’s been a huge supporter ever since.”

In fact, Webb is so impressed with how warmly the community has received the mural project, she has altered her long-term plans.

Webb hopes to establish a nonprofit to continue and expand the mural project in town.

“I’d really like this to become something where we can bring in a lot of different artists,” she says. “I think that would be great because it would mean more diversity in the murals, more variety in styles and subject matter. And bringing it back full circle, I think Starkville could be a place that proves that the great artists we have here in Mississippi don’t have to leave.”