DALTON, Ga. — "What have you survived?"
Those words are at the bottom of a mural at the women-only SheRoo Camp at the recently concluded Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The mural was painted by Dalton artist Ruth Park, who recently returned from the festival.
"Women would come up and write on the mural and just pour their hearts out about some pretty horrible things they had gone through and survived," she said. "They would write about how they had healed and were ready to take on the world. That was very touching."
Bonnaroo is a four-day music and arts festival that has been held on 650 acres about 65 miles southeast of Nashville each year since 2002.
"At Bonnaroo you have different camps," Park said. "The have FamilyRoo, SoloRoo, all sorts of roos. SheRoo is for women and it has self-defense classes, yoga meditation, nutrition courses."
SheRoo was looking for a "women's empowerment type of mural," Park said. So she submitted a design.
"They called me, and we had a conversation about myself and my work," she said.
She was hired to paint the mural and went up earlier this year to work on it. She said it was the first time she's done such "interactive" artwork.
Park said she has been interested in art since she was a small child.
"My dad was in the military, so we lived all up and down the East Coast," she said. "We did one tour in Italy, which was my favorite."
She herself served eight years in the Army.
She met her husband Ryan, who is from Dalton, in January of 2011.
"He was in the Navy. We met in Augusta. We were both linguists," she said. "We traveled around together for a number of years. We lived in Panama. We lived in San Francisco. But then my oldest daughter was getting ready to go to school, and we thought it was time to settle down. We are coming up on a year in Dalton."
Park studied sculpture at City College of San Francisco but said she began to feel led to painting instead. She said she painted her first professional mural while they were living in Panama in 2017.
"I walked into a restaurant and said, 'Do you want a mural?'" she said.
"My work is in murals. I only get paid to do murals, but I paint all the time. I do photography. I'd like to get to the point where I am painting smaller canvases professionally as well," she said. "My art is focused on veterans' mental health. I have a lot of friends who are not getting the treatment they need. It's difficult for them to get treatment. I think about that a lot."
She said her art also focuses on human trafficking.
"In Panama (where her family is from), it used to be that every once in a while a girl would go missing. It's becoming more prevalent," she said.
She is currently pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in painting and drawing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Why would someone who is working professionally take the time to earn a degree?
"I can get a lot better. I have a lot of things I want to say that I don't feel like I'm skilled enough to say in a way that will really appeal to the masses," she said.
One of her next major projects will be a mural in downtown Dalton commissioned by the 2018-19 Leadership Dalton-Whitfield class that she plans to begin in July.
Allyson Coker, project manager of Believe Greater Dalton, which is part of the project, said the plans call for the mural to be on a building on the northeast corner of Hamilton Street and King Street.
"We are really excited about this," Coker said. "We are still working out some of the details. But we believe she should be able to begin painting soon."
You can see more of Park's art on Instagram at ruthpark_art.