Mosaic of Dale Earnhardt Jr. raises money for artists

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 9, 2014 

— After returning from the holidays, Kelley Earnhardt Miller resisted entering the break room at JR Motorsports.

She wanted to avoid lifting the black veil draping a 4-foot-by-6-foot mosaic honoring her brother, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., she said. Miller co-owns JR Motorsports in Talbert Pointe Business Park, off Interstate 77 Exit 36, so she had every right to peek.

“I wanted to be surprised like everyone else,” she said Thursday before the mosaic was unveiled to a roomful of local arts supporters.

The mosaic consists of 1,151 photos that Earnhardt fans, along with friends of the Mooresville Artist Guild, submitted of themselves.

For an $8.80 donation per photo – Earnhardt Jr.’s National Guard race car number is 88 – friends and fans uploaded their pictures onto a website for the mosaic.

Donations totaled about $10,000, with all proceeds going to the guild’s planned renovation of the 1863 train depot at Main Street and West Center Avenue downtown.

Established in 1966, the guild hosts local and international art exhibits, and classes and workshops in the depot. Guild president Ellen Patterson said the building needs about a $1 million restoration, and the mosaic was the guild’s first big fundraiser for the work.

Picture Mosaic of Blue Bell, Pa., used software to transform the photos into a color image of a smiling Earnhardt Jr. in his race suit, arms folded and standing beside an image of the No. 88 car.

A large white image of Earnhardt’s signature appears above the car, and the logos “Race City USA” and “JR Motorsports” are at the bottom of the work.

“I see my photo!” Peggy Jones blurted while seated in the front row of the room Thursday, while others needed a magnifying glass to spot theirs.

“You need glasses,” Jones, a member of the guild’s depot renovation committee, teased others in the room who struggled to find their tiny photographs blended into the mosaic.

Guild treasurer Leo Gordon found his picture on Earnhardt nose.

For 10 days beginning on Saturday, the mosaic will be available for purchase by bidding at http://stores.ebay.com/the-dale-jr-foundation. Bidding will start at $500, Gordon said.

All proceeds from the winning bid also will go to renovate the 5,300-square-foot depot, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

About 60 percent of the building is unheated warehouse space.

Plans include converting the warehouse area into climate-controlled gallery space. Classrooms and disability access will be added to the building, guild members said.

Gordon said he came up with the fundraiser idea after seeing a mosaic done for the charitable foundation associated with NHL Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux. That mosaic used 20,000 photos, he said.

When Gordon contacted Picture Mosaic, which did the Lemieux piece, he was told the company already had one in Mooresville. Turns out the Hershey Co. had a mosaic done for Dale Earnhardt Inc., located on N.C. 3, after the racing great – Dale Jr. and Kelley’s dad – died while competing in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Gordon said the new mosaic pays tribute to Earnhardt and his organization for their accomplishments on the track, but more importantly for his contributions to the town. JR Motorsports employs about 100 workers, making it a large local employer, and donates to various local charities, he said.

On Thursday, Miller unveiled a surprise of her own: The Dale Jr. Foundation also will contribute $2,500 to the depot’s restoration, she said.

“Dale and I think it is very important to support our community,” Miller told the crowd. “We’re proud of the work the Mooresville Artist Guild does.”

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak

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