Alabama Power retiree Marrene Wilson finds joy during pandemic by painting mural

Alabama Power retiree Marrene Wilson finds joy during pandemic by painting mural
Marrene Wilson takes joy in serving others in her retirement by sharing her talents. A member of the Birmingham Division Energizers – Alabama Power's service arm for retirees – Wilson felt lonely during the pandemic. Since May, she has beautified a storm shelter for distant relatives on Lay Lake, painting a lovely outdoors scene. Wilson said that assisting others helps her stay active and creative. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Confined at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, Marrene Wilson felt the need to get out and help someone.

Wilson prepares to paint the storm shelter, left. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

“I live by myself and I had to be isolated at first,” said Wilson, an Alabama Power retiree for 14 years. “One of my friends nearby is about the only one I’ve socialized with. I was kind of listlessly wandering around, wondering what I’d do while by myself.”

Since retirement, Wilson has volunteered with Energizers, the retiree service organization of Alabama Power. But COVID-19 and social distancing have hindered many activities for this active service group, with most members being 55 and older.

Wilson learned that a relative, Leesa Rogers, and her husband, David, had recently purchased an unsightly concrete storm shelter. The residents of Lay Lake in Shelby love the peace of mind offered by the shelter. But the structure – 8 feet long, 6 feet wide and 7 feet high – spoils the couple’s view from their sunroom.

“The gray concrete was such an eyesore,” Leesa Rogers said.

Wilson, a longtime artist, volunteered to paint a scene on the shelter.

Marrene Wilson beautifies Alabama storm shelter with mural from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

From boring to bold and cheerful

For the past two months, Wilson has happily busied herself transforming the shelter into a simulated brick-and-stucco house dotted with colorful flowers, trees, birds and butterflies. Leesa Rogers found a picture of a tree with blazing red leaves and gave a copy to Wilson. Now a tree covered with red leaves adorns the back of the shelter often seen by lake passersby.

“She said, ‘I want you to paint something cheerful,’” Wilson said. “She’s got very vibrant tastes in color. I’m painting hummingbirds and butterflies, too, which are detailed.”

Before starting the work, Wilson sketched scenes of a small stucco house for Leesa Rogers. David Rogers prepared the concrete by applying sealant. To create the stucco “background,” Wilson covered the surface with light-brown latex.

“You have to work quickly with latex,” Wilson said. “It dries fast when the wind blows in off the river.”

Since May 8, nearly every day except for weekends, Wilson has arrived in the early morning to paint. Sometimes she’s there as early as 6 a.m.

“I can’t be out in the sun,” said Wilson, who has sensitive skin. “Leesa and David leave me alone and let me work. By 9 a.m., I’m out of there.”

She uses sponges – one about 6 inches long and another about 3 inches long – to create the look of bricks. Wilson “picked up” the idea from a crafts magazine. She uses acrylic paint in a range of bright colors to create the scenery. David Rogers plans to coat the completed mural with clear polyurethane to protect the images from the harsh sun and weather.

Seeking new creative horizons

Wilson, a lifelong artist, got serious with her craft after retirement. Visitors to her nearly century-old home find whimsical paintings – two horses and a small boy – that bring to life an antique corn crib at the back of the property.

Wilson has taken several painting classes at the Shelby County Arts Center, honing her skills under the tutelage of Wayne Spradley, an internationally acclaimed water color artist based in Pell City.

Now that Wilson has completed two sides of the shelter and has begun decorating the entrance, she’s looking for another project to keep her occupied.

“All the anxiety that is going on in this world just fades away while I’m painting,” Wilson said. “This has kept me active, and my mind stays on this. It’s been a blessing to me.”

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