The Muses were courtiers of the divinities who inhabited Mount Olympus and served as companions of Apollo in his aspect as the god of music.
Artist Benjamin F. Long IV has become renowned worldwide for his frescoes, one of which adorns the ceiling of the Municipal Auditorium in Morganton, NC.
Sacred Dance & the Muses, painted in 2004 by contemporary fresco master Benjamin F. Long IV, depicts the Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne of Greek mythology. Calliope represents Poetry, Clio – History, Erato – Romantic Poetry, Euterpe – Music, Melpomene – Tragedy, Polyhymnia -Sacred Poetry, Terpsichore – Dance, Thalia – Comedy, and Urania – Astronomy.
Long selected the Muses as the theme for the Community of Morganton’s Municipal Auditorium (CoMMA) because of their inspiration for the arts and sciences. The auditorium presents MainStage events including plays, musicals, concerts, comedians, cirque and ice shows.
About the Artist
Born in Texas in 1945, artist Benjamin F. Long IV grew up in Statesville, and studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Art Student’s League in New York. Ben later lived in Florence, Italy where he began his apprenticeship under Maestro Pietro Annigeni. He has since achieved international fame as a master of both true fresco, drawing and oil painting. His excellence in the field of fresco painting has resulted in worldwide commissions, including France and Italy and several sites in North Carolina.
What is a Fresco?
Fresco is the medium Michelangelo chose when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The technique involves mixing sand and lime, placing the mix on a wall and painting it while it’s still wet. Fresco painting is a tenuous art. So quickly does the bonding of the pigment to wet plaster take place that great skill and meticulous planning must be maintained in order to achieve the beautiful result.
The Fresco Process
With a fresco, there are many steps before the first stroke of paint is placed on the wall. The scratch coat is made up of partially slaked lime combined with sand. The preliminary drawings were sketched and then refined. Individual studies of certain elements of the painting – such as portraits – were produced to help in the artist’s development of the original composition.
Cartoons were created and enlarged to the full scale of the finished fresco to ensure the accuracy when transferring the drawing to the wall. The wall was made into a grid where the drawings were traced on the wall through a process called pouncing. A large needle is used to punch along the traced lines every few inches. These punched tracings are affixed to the wall and a dry medium is used to create a dotted outline on the scratch coat.
The final painting surface must be neither too wet nor too dry. Extreme care is given to mixing the pigments with distilled water. Mulling is labor intensive, but necessary to ensure that pigments and lime crystals are ground finely enough to be drawn into the porous plaster as it dries. The fresco is now completed with the emulsifying of lime and sand, complimented with the elegant colors for people to view.
Initiated by the City of Morganton and funded entirely by private donations, “Sacred Dance & the Muses” is testament to the City’s commitment to its citizens and visitors with this classical work of art created by one of the world’s finest artists. It is one of the frescoes on the Benjamin F. Long IV North Carolina Fresco Trail.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Trail is a program of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership.