A mural reflecting scenery and wildlife of this area encircles the interior of Canton Area Historical Museum, overlooking displays of other memorabilia tracing the town’s historical past.
Unique and lovely, the 64-year-old painting enhances other historical collections protected and preserved within the walls of the building. Mount Pisgah’s likeness rises in one scene.
Nearby, a river flows. Trillium, Ladies’ Slippers, violets and other spring wildflowers carpet a forest floor. Mountain laurel, flame azalea and mountain azalea blooms capture more native plants.
A woodpecker hammers at a tree and a robin feeds her babies. Depictions of terrain, birds, plants, trees and wildlife indicate close observation and research of native flora and fauna.
The mural was painted on-site on canvases later affixed to the wall.
Joy Postle Blackstone, the artist, encouraged audiences to observe as she worked. After a troop of Girl Scout Brownies from Canton First Baptist Church visited a painting session, one of the young girls remarked that Blackstone “held their attention” by discussing each object as she painted.
“She talked about the mountains, the different trees, the flowers and especially the birds and animals. She was a vivacious woman, even flamboyant,” she said.
The museum was originally built to house a new Canton Public Library, dedicated in June 1954. The mural was commissioned by the late Reuben B. and Hope Robertson as their gift for the newly completed library.
The late Katherine “Kay” Levine, former Librarian of Haywood County Public Library, wrote “In August of that year Joy Postle of Florida, known for her bird paintings, began a mural on the walls of the new building. It pictured all the fauna and flora of the area. In September, she and her husband, Robert Blackstone, presented an hour of entertainment in the library consisting of singing and bird sketches.”
Blackstone’s memoirs entitled “Joy Cometh in the Morning,” explain her presence in Canton.
She and husband Bob, a journalist, traveled to North Carolina in the summer of 1954 to attend the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
At a Canton lunch stop, they learned of the library construction and Robertson’s potential interest in a wildlife mural.
“Bob [...] obtained an appointment to show a photo album of my work. The gentleman was impressed and offered me the commission. We were more than excited for there were other benefits we hadn’t counted on. A nice cottage at Lake Logan provided our lodging while I worked on the mural. A new cookstove was installed for our two-months stay and a canoe was parked at the door. Besides, my painting schedule left us ample time to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains,” she said.
“The library was small, about 80-feet long and 30-feet wide. The frieze between the bookcases and the ceiling was five feet high. In that space I painted Mt. Michell (sic) towering in the background, a red fox running through a field of grass and a squirrel caught raiding a bird’s nest with a blue jay in pursuit. Against the peaks and valleys, birds native to the Great Smokies punctuated the mural. I depicted Nature in her spring dress,” the memoir continues.
The Blackstones resided in Florida. Archived articles from the Orlando Sentinel report that “She was primarily recognized for her paintings of wildlife, especially birds, which she depicted ‘in careful detail and with authentic backgrounds’. One of her major artistic contributions was a ‘visual record of the birds and other wildlife of the state (Florida) in watercolors, oils, and pen and in drawings’.”
In 1972, Haywood County Public Library and Canton Public Library consolidated. On March 1, 1989, the Canton library moved to a new and larger structure on Pennsylvania Avenue constructed on property once occupied by Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary School.
As a nod to the historical connection between the two buildings, a portion of the mural was detached, framed and hung in the library where it remains.
Information and photos facilitated by Caroline Ponton, Canton Area Historical Museum curator.