Artist Joelle Storet begins work on Nelson Hackett mural

Local artist Joëlle Storet works to paint a mural along the retaining wall on Nelson Hackett Boulevard in Fayetteville on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Flyer photo/Todd Gill)

Work is underway on a new mural along the retaining wall on Nelson Hackett Boulevard in Fayetteville.

Local artist Joëlle Storet this week began painting a 90-foot section of the wall on the west side of the street, with a design that includes a depiction of what Nelson Hackett may have looked like, along with several other former Fayetteville residents and landmarks of historical significance.

The city in March sought artists for designs that reflect themes of movement, justice, and connectivity as part of a larger goal to decorate the road’s 500-foot-long retaining wall with murals over the next five years. The project included a commission of $24,000 to cover artist fees and materials.

Storet’s design was selected by the Fayetteville Arts Council, in collaboration with members of the city’s Historic District Commission and Black Historic Preservation Commission.

Hackett was an enslaved man who fled Fayetteville in 1841 in search of freedom. His attempted escape set off an international dispute that eventually helped ensure Canada would remain a safe haven for people who were fleeing enslavement in the United States.

After fleeing Fayetteville, Hackett traveled to Canada, which had recently abolished slavery and was under British rule at the time. Instead of finding freedom, Hackett was accused of theft by a man who claimed to own him in Fayetteville. While abolitionists called on Canada to give Hackett his freedom, supporters of slavery insisted that he be returned to the United States. Eventually, Arkansas Gov. Archibald Yell formally requested that Hackett be returned to Fayetteville, and when that request was granted, Hackett was publicly whipped, tortured and sold back into slavery in Texas.

The British government eventually passed laws that made similar extraditions much more difficult in an effort to prevent setting a precedent that encouraged slave owners to make accusations of offenses in order to reclaim enslaved people.

Nelson Hackett mural design (Joelle Storet/City of Fayetteville)

The city in 2022 renamed the street from Archibald Yell Boulevard to Nelson Hackett Boulevard, and began a redesign of the road to slow traffic and improve connectivity from one side of the street to the other.

Bob Stafford, a City Council member who also sits on the city’s arts council, said he was impressed with Storet’s depiction of the local history of the area, which is timely considering the recent changes on the street.

“Archibald Yell Boulevard was kind of a redline road that divided the haves from the have-nots in Fayetteville,” said Stafford. “The work that was done, along with the renaming and now (the mural), is kind of a symbol that we’re bringing the city back together.”

Some of the other people and landmarks included in Storet’s design include Dorothy Barker-Wilks, Lafayette Barker, Teresa Gray, along with Yell’s Waxhaws home and the Washington County Courthouse building.

Storet’s work is expected to be completed by June 15.

During the installation, portions of the sidewalk and buffer space on Nelson Hackett Boulevard may be blocked off for brief periods.

» Click to enlarge (Joelle Storet/City of Fayetteville)