Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District

Throwback Thursday: Mt. Rainier Funeral Home comes down, and we look back…

Photo by Trish Newberg

Photo by Trish Newberg

Yesterday we said goodbye to the long-time vacant Funeral Home. In 2012 as citizens gathered to paint the neglected building to give Route 1 drivers an artistic impression upon crossing from DC into Mount Rainier, MD “Art Lives Here” was born.

The community has spoken out for years about this building. Once Nalley’s Funeral Home, then Dudley’s Funeral Home, the building was last owned by Sam Reynolds before being taken on by the City of Mount Rainier. The building has seen a lot of history. Many families remember saying goodbye to loved ones when it functioned as a funeral home. Many were sad to see what was once a beautiful and functional building go to disrepair and disuse. Others are concerned the economic development the city is welcoming will not support local business and reflect the community needs. Still others are thrilled to see the vacant space at last being addressed and look forward to welcoming new business on Rhode Island Avenue. There is a lot of exciting debate and discussion around these changes and we look forward to seeing what Mount Rainier’s future holds.

This Throwback Thursday we want to remember and celebrate a very special time in the life of the Funeral Home. Today we look back to the time when local artist Valerie Theberge was selected to create and execute (with a lot of help from local artists Nehemiah Dixon III and Shahin Shikhaliyev) a huge mural project to turn the funeral home into a bright and artistic marker of the Mount Rainier – DC border.

We were able to catch Valerie to get some answers to a few questions:

First off, tell the world: who are you and what do you do?

I am an artist who creates large-scale projects that aims to energetically transform a place. I have lived and worked in the [Gateway] Arts District for 12 years.

What inspired you to choose the design you did for the funeral home?

I wanted to create a piece that had an ethereal feel to it. Something that had a sense of fludity to it and spoke to our inner world. Mount Rainier has been such a wonderful place to live and this is how I interpret the feelings I have towards the city and Prince George’s County in general.

It’s been 3 years since Citizen Paint during Better Block 2012, how do you feel about the impact of your mural on Route 1 right as you cross into Mt. Rainier and The Gateway Arts District?

I enjoy that it is an unusual way to mark the entrance to the Gateway Arts District and feels like it welcomes people to the County.

You’re still here! What keeps you in the Gateway Arts District?

I have lived in 4 countries and numerous cities throughout the States and this is by far the most special neighborhood I have ever found. There is a lovely sense of connection and place here.

Finished mural outline

Finished mural outline

The project was a beast to undertake. Valerie emphasized that while the mural design was hers, she owed much of the execution to the dedication and hours put in by Nehemiah and Shahin. “It was really their blood, sweat and tears that went into making this happen” she told Art Lives Here yesterday at the demolition site. The group worked tirelessly to prime the building for painting, sketch out the design, and run up and down scaffolding to create a bold black outline.

This outline became essential later when Joe’s Movement Emporium helped organize the Better Block Project and Citizen Paint session where the community was invited for a day of painting, live music, arts and crafts and other fun. The lot next to the funeral home was filled with vendors and musicians, Art Works Now held and Art

Citizen Paint April 28, 2012

Citizen Paint April 28, 2012

Attack paint project for artists of all ages, and stations of paint and brushes were provided so everyone could have the opportunity to paint the mural. Valerie pre-marked each spot for various colors, the community filled it in!

However the building and mural was huge, and some outlines were hard to abide for our younger painters, so Valerie, Shahin and Nehemiah were back throughout the next week to re-pain the outlines, fill in the missing spots, and ensure the mural was picture perfect.

Whether you’re for or against the new development Mount Rainier and the Gateway Arts District is seeing, we can all agree this is an exciting time to be involved in this community!

Below check out our slide show of images that show the process of cleaning, priming, outlining and finally painting the funeral home back in 2012!

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About neenajoe

Joe’s Movement Emporium is a cultural arts hub that acts as a catalyst for creativity and economic opportunity for all through productions and programs in education, artist services and work readiness. Located in the town center of Mount Rainier, Maryland within the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District, the organization supports and promotes creative projects of local artists and community groups. For additional information on programs and events, please visit

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