The Museum is kicking off Ava’s Centennial year with the Ava Gardner Festival, October 7-9. This southern starlet will be celebrating her 100th birthday on Christmas Eve of 2022 and the museum plans to make the entire year all about marking the occasion. This includes the debut of numerous projects currently in the works, the first of which was debuted this week in Downtown Smithfield.

The Ava Gardner Mural, located on the side of the museum, and visible to west bound traffic on Market St., is the culmination of nearly a year of work by the Ava Gardner Museum. It is also part of a larger project that includes a soon to be revealed commemorative rose garden. Funding for this Centennial project was provided by the Joy W. Pope Memorial Grant, the Johnston County Arts Council, and one of Ava’s previous companions Carmen Vargas.

Jeks Begins Work on the Ava Gardner Museum Mural

About the Mural Artist


North Carolina native and Greensboro artist, Jeks One was selected to bring the mural to life. You can see his other works at or on Instagram @Jeks_NC. Jeks is a shortened version of Jekyll, which was his graffiti tag in his younger days; there is no deeper meaning behind it. I sat down with him, during his week in JoCo to complete the mural, to talk about his work.

“I’ve used spray paint as a medium since I was 11 or 12, Graffiti is an artform, a culture. What I do is legal graffiti, but that art style is where I started and I see myself as a graffiti artist first and a muralist second.” 

He had a music career for almost 15 years and his art took a backseat to that. Around 2015-16 a friend asked if he could be a part of a local mural commission and as part of that he did some realistic-type statue art in a large scale medium with spray paint. Jeks realized he could scale-up and still keep quality and detail. 

Looking at Jeks work one notices a frequent theme which is hyper-realistic, grayscale portraits. He says he does not work exclusively in grayscale but does so often because using grayscale requires a smaller color palette to achieve depth and realism, about 10-15 colors, whereas full color would take closer to 40.

“I started with this particular style and it’s really become my style and so it’s what I get asked to do in my commission work often, but you’ll see I also use color.”

Jeks Works on the Ava Gardner Museum Mural

He also uses a grid system called a Doodle Grid which allows him to scale up a portrait to the size of the wall. It’s the way he learned to do murals after starting using projection. For large murals it can take up to 5 days from start to finish. However, with his Ava piece the mural is essentially 5 portraits in a row and so it took 10 days (with a day break for weather). 

“I’m most proud of my recent canvas work lately, but as far as murals go I did one in Atlanta that was a partnership between myself and a photographer, Jonathan Mannion. It’s of the group Outkast and it has become a popular photo op destination in the city.” 

A lot of his work now is commission based; he’s been all over the US, as well as done work in Nova Scotia, Canada and in Bogotá, Colombia. Jeks gets a handful of inquiries per week and he says about 10-20% of those inquiries turn into work. On average he completes 2-3 commissions per month. 

“I’m learning a lot about Ava. I knew who she was, but I didn’t know she was from NC. I often learn a lot about the subjects of my portraits, celebrities and non-celebrities, because people tell me stories sometimes as I work.”

Jeks next project, ironically, will be with the town of Mt. Airy - his second mural there. It will be a large mural celebrating fellow NC native, and Ava’s contemporary, Andy Griffith. 

Jeks Works on the Ava Gardner Museum Mural


Next on Tap - The Rose Garden 


Visitors to the Ava Gardner Museum and to Downtown Smithfield can view the massive and incredible life-like mural now. It portrays Ava across the many seasons of her life. The aforementioned rose garden is coming soon and will likely be installed by mid May. Witherspoon's of Durham will be planting 18 Hotel California Yellow Tea Roses with boxwoods and hedges surrounding the roses in a bed that lies beside the museum and directly under the mural. 

The mural and the rose garden are the first of other projects coming to the museum in the next year to celebrate Ava - new technologies in the main gallery, updating the introductory video, and highlighting new and rarely seen items the museum is currently in the works. The museum is also currently planning October’s Ava Gardner Festival, with much more information about that coming soon. Then, in December, the museum will celebrate Ava's 100th birthday through several special events; and will continue to celebrate Ava’s centennial into 2023 with an array of special programs.