(photo Bob Pitchford)
The Shire mural, commissioned by Shirehampton Methodist Church, was painted by Bill and Elaine Guilding in summer 2012. Bill is a Bristol artist well-known for his murals at Stapleton Road and Bedminster Railway Stations, and was the obvious choice for the painting of a community mural in Shirehampton. Bill invited his sister Elaine, also an artist, to collaborate with him on the mural. The brief was for a mural which included contemporary images of the village and linked in with the 40th anniversary of the local Shire newspaper.
Local people soon became regulars at the wall, offering ideas and encouragement, inputting local knowledge both past and present. Tools were loaned, coffee provided and suggestions made – many of which were incorporated into the mural. Local people also acted as models for some of the poses. Although not intended as ‘portraits’, the inspiration for many of the figures in the mural came from people, children, babies and dogs observed in the area. School children, keen to be involved, were allowed to paint spots on one of the dogs!
The mural is divided into two main scenes. The right side shows John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism, preaching to a contemporary audience. An 18th century clipper ship, of the kind which would have carried Methodist missionaries to the New World, is shown sailing down the river, under the M5 motorway bridge towards the modern skyline of Avonmouth. The left side of the mural is set on The Green in the centre of Shirehampton, the background showing the main street and the varied architectural styles found in the village. The attention of the people in the scene is diverted towards the young middle-eastern man on the park bench, a modern Jesus, who is sharing bread, in a symbolic act of communion, with an elderly homeless man and a hooded figure at his feet.
The two scenes are linked by a brick wall which incorporates the real windows of the church building, and references the architectural features of the houses in the street. A walker with a dog passes in front of the wall, and a man sits on the windowsill reading the Shire newspaper – with ‘40th anniversary year’ on the front page. Above the mural, in three recessed arches, are painted a cross with a dove, symbolising the Holy Spirit, and two short texts: on the left are the words of Jesus, and on the right a quote from John Wesley.