Artist enshrines Harold, wielder of purple crayon, in Chattanooga

Artist enshrines Harold, wielder of purple crayon, in Chattanooga

June 29th, 2012 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Sember LaRose painted a scene from "Harold and the Purple Crayon" on a Main Street building. She kneels beside her artwork with her children Kaiden, Isobel, Mason and Elisha, from left.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

For some Chattanooga-area residents, an old friend has come to town.

Harold, the young hero of "Harold and the Purple Crayon," is strolling along East Main Street, his trusty purple crayon leading his path.

The rendering was created by Sember LaRose using a stencil she made from a projector and posterboard.

Written in 1955 by Crockett Johnson, "Harold and the Purple Crayon" is the story of a little boy who goes on an adventure of his own making, creating a world with his purple crayon and his imagination.

"One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight," the book begins. "There wasn't any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight. And he needed something to walk on."

Bald-headed, with an upturned nose, Harold, clad in a footed pajama suit, is seen drawing a moon and a path with his purple crayon. It's a book that has been read for three generations.

"I just love that story. I love that book. I remember it from when I was young, and then I read it to my children," said LaRose, 34. "I think (Harold is) so fascinating. I think the book is so simplistic and imaginative. There's a beauty to that, especially where we have so much coming at children where there has to be a moral, and there are these things spelled out for them."

Ruth Kolb, who has a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, said she did not read "Harold and the Purple Crayon" as a child but has enjoyed reading it to her own children.

"As an adult reading it to my kids, one of my favorite things is the play on words," said Kolb, referring to lines like "And then Harold made his bed. He got in it, and he drew up the covers."

"Literally, tears of joy came to my eyes," said Jessica McGhee, 25, when she learned that Harold had been brought to Chattanooga. The book, she said, has bonded parents and children for generations in her family.

Her late grandfather read it to her mother, who read it to her, and she has read it to her son, Logan. In fact, McGhee said, "Harold and the Purple Crayon" is the first book she ever read to Logan, along with her mother, in the hospital the day after he was born.

"It's exceptionally meaningful," she said, "because of Harold's imagination and the courage he had. It's knowing that no matter how lost you get, you're going to find your way back home. It's just a gorgeous book."

Julie Bestry said she has given copies of the book, along with purple crayons, as graduation gifts.

"(The book) operates on so many different levels. When you're making your own way, it can be fun, it can be an adventure, but it can be scary," said Bestry, 45. "If you create your destiny, you can always find your way home."

LaRose was partly inspired by her husband, Shaun LaRose, a well-known Chattanooga street artist. He coordinated the Discoteca Demolition Project, in which six artists turned a building that was scheduled for demolition into a public canvas.

"He's very into murals and public art, art being accessible to everybody," Sember said. "He's taught me a lot about that, and I appreciate that."

The image of Harold, she said, seemed appropriate for the medium.

"It just seemed to fit for street art, because he's drawing everywhere. He takes his crayon with him, and he creates all sorts of stuff."

Sember first painted the Harold stencil on the old Discoteca building. It was her very first piece of street art. Excited, she told her husband she had completed it, and he immediately got in the car to go look. As he drove up, however, someone else was already painting over Harold.

"I was so mad and defensive for my wife," Shaun said. "I was like, 'What are you doing?' "

So she re-created the image at 26 East Main, below a series of picture frames with quotations, across from Battle Academy where her children attend school.

"I was trying to be pretty careful," she said. "I chose that building because there is other stuff on it. I don't want to cause trouble and (vandalize), but other things were going on on that building."

The LaRoses' five children, ages 6 to 14, have come to appreciate the young hero of Johnson's work. Nine-year-old twin boys Elisha and Kaiden admire Harold's creativity, and their 6-year-old sister Isobel (pronounced Ee-so-bell) envies his ability to "make anything he wants."

With a purple crayon, Isobel said, "you can make chocolate, you can make ice cream, you can make your own house, and you can make a baby."

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