A Mural by Bree Stallings & Dana Endsley
Public Art Consultant: May Barger


/ fl∂riSH /

verb 1. (of a person, animal or other living organism) to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

Why the name Flourish?

“Flourish” is an active verb that captures the momentum and upward mobility of Gaston County’s vibrant upswing. Communities flourish when members of an ecosystem cooperate and work together to replace hierarchy with balance, flow, and forward motion.

The full project, “Flourish” consists of three very large murals and a community engagement QR code that encourages viewers to create goodwill and positive change in the community. Each image in the mural reflects changes in Gaston County and the role played by the United Way. When you visit, see how many images you recognize and think about how this community has impacted your life. For help, see the symbol key in this website.


Not only does “flourish” recognize Gaston County’s history, but it also merges our youth’s creativity with the mission of the United Way. A call for student art was issued to all Gaston County schools, public and private. Art students were given 10-inch paper circles and invited to visually interpret the three tenants of the United Way: financial stability, education and health. Ten pieces were selected that were added to the largest mural, but all of the artwork is on exhibit in the United Way Nanny Center.


The murals are intended to inspire conversation and provide educational opportunities for teachers and students as well as community members. Below is a list of key symbols and some discussion topics to help viewers learn to think more creatively and recognize the hidden symbolism.

From Left to Right:

Crowders Mountain’s textures and colors cascade into the background, alluding to the viewers journey further west on Franklin Boulevard where the popular Mountain boasts a state park and serves as Gastonia’s natural skyline. Yellow behind the mountain implies the dawning a new, sunrise.

Hands pour honey from a ceramic vessel in front of the rising sun, an act of offering. The ceramic vessel is a nod to the red clayware that is native to the southeast, and to the artist’s grandfather, local potter, Jack Sexton. The honey flows into the future, mimicking the shape of rapid water (perhaps it is symbolic of the Catawba River) and growth that occurs with hydration.

Behind the hands, an eye in the distance “cries” the honey, a way of remembering that hard work produces growth and a tribute to citizens long gone whose hands and labor we profited from.

The large bee, the boldest graphic symbol in the mural, invites viewers to become “pollinators” by creating goodwill and positive change.

Honey flows from the ceramic vessel into hexagonal honeycomb shapes, referring to the importance of the bees and other pollinators that circle the top of the building directing viewers to the mural’s symbol key near the parking lot.

The globe symbolizes the current and future international connections of Gaston County, including Gastonia’s two sister cities: Gotha, Germany and Santiago de Surco, Peru.

The honeycomb flows into a colorful patchwork quilt, which has a rich Southern history and emphasizes the role of family traditions and the importance of women’s work through the generations.

Above the patchwork are five candles lighting the way towards our future. When viewed from the central grassy area, the candles illuminate the faces of children in the above mural; when viewed from the road, the candles align with the candle being held by the older woman, honoring her long, caring life. The number 5 references the five interpersonal relationships that the United Way fosters for health: between the individual, the family, the school, the institution, and the community.
In the Native American sacred practice of numerology, the number “5” is

the number of humanity and refers to the fact that humans have five fingers, five toes, five appendages (if the head is included), five senses, and five major systems of the body.

Next to the candles and above the patchwork quilt are three concentric circles. The first contains a Catawba Chief, regal in his headdress as he claims space in the sky, inviting us to remember whose land we are on. Next to him, is a pinky promise, an intimate child-like symbol of connection representing trust, relationship and honor. Then, a laughing child, who looks towards the future full of hope.

The patchwork quilt fades from moving waters into a rippling pond where a koi fish  swims towards the future. Koi fish, a protected species, live to be incredibly old and are often written into the will of their owners. Hanako, the oldest living koi fish ever recorded, died at 226 years old. The artist’s grandmother, Gaston County resident Kumiko Maeda Sexton, (pictured in the upper mural) was from Hokkaido, Japan and came to America where she worked for the Pharr and Carstarphen families of McAdenville for many, many years.

Koi fish scales, used to determine how old the animal is, are similar to counting the rings of a tree. The image below the patchwork quilt can be interpreted as rings on a tree, and like a fingerprint, celebrates the unique qualities of every individual.

Under the rings, cotton grows in front of a setting sun. The final flow of the honey ends as the rippled waters extend into a DNA sequence. We are moving toward the future supported by scientific discoveries that emphasize alike and how different we each are.

The three growing seeds are a sacred metaphor for birth, life and breaking open. As Gaston County grows and changes, what we may see now as destruction may actually be a rejuvenation.

To the right, as the mural tapers off from what is visible to vehicles driving by, a beautiful sun is setting, with more hexagonal shapes used for student art input.

“Flourish” is about bringing people together to find ways to flourish both individually and as a community. To the end, the artists, Dana Endsley and Bree Stallings were committed to including a student art component in the creation of the murals. They put out a call for student artwork to public and private schools in Gaston County, inviting art students in all grades to submit their work. Students were invited to visually interpret the United Way’s 3 tenants: financial stability, education, and healthcare. There were many creative submission and 10 were chosen for Bree to paint into the largest mural in Gaston County. Congratulations to the following students: Ashton Leming, HH Beam Elementary School; Cameron Smith and Courtney Synder, W.A. Bess Elementary School; Grace Hohman, George Current, Peyton McMillan, Ellie Pietras, Gaston Day Middle School and Maddi Miller, Sara Russell, Baker Sanders, Gaston Day High School.

The mural at the back of the building, in the parking lot, is a beautiful bold design spelling the name of the project, “Flourish”. On this mural, one sees the definition of the words, “flourish and pollinator” and several examples of pollinators. This mural is designed to be an invitation to take a selfie and to become a “pollinator” in the community. Using the definition:

“anything, animal or person who kindly efforts to move pollen from place to place, eventually resulting in a fruit”, like the metaphor, we are inviting the viewer to pollinate their community with kindness. There is a URL code on the mural that sends participants to a webpage with suggestions for ways to contribute to spreading kindness.

The invitation is to take a selfie with the mural, scan the URL code with your phone, post your selfie with the hashtag #FLOURISHGASTON and then after you’ve completed the kindness suggestion post again with the same hashtag.

Bearing the fruit of kindness in our community, one pollinator at a time!


We invite you to enjoy the mural and its beauty at your leisure. Feel free to photograph it, post it on social media, use it for creative projects. Please share with us by using the hashtag #FLOURISHGASTON or tagging us on social media United Way of Gaston County (Facebook) or @unitedwaygaston (Instagram). We can’t way to see all of your creativity and you might be featured on our page.

About the Artist

Breanna “Bree” Stallings is a Gaston County-native, multi-media artist, illustrator, writer and activist. She graduated from Forestview High School in 2009 and Queens University of Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor Degree in Studio Art and Creative Writing. She resides near uptown Charlotte where she works as a painter, illustrator and muralist. Currently, she teaches adults and children intermediate and advanced drawing and painting techniques at her studio called the Learning Lab.

Using art as her vehicle, she raises awareness for many causes that affect her life and those closest to her such as economic mobility, sexual health advocacy, displacement and homelessness and environmental consciousness.

Through the programs, curated art shows and fundraisers she has helped put on, Bree, alongside her creative team and partnerships with Project Art Aid, Behailu Academy, the Mecklenburg County Health Department, and many more have helped raised over $500,000 for furthering development in Charlotte’s art and humanities scene.

Her works of art, poetry, and mixed-media collage have been covered and published in various print and online magazines including NPR, Creative Loafing, Charlotte Viewpoint, Indigo Rising, My City Magazine, MAYO, The Borgen Project, Society Charlotte, Charlotte Magazine and others.
In recent news, her partnership with the Mecklenburg County Health Department and students at Behailu Academy have provided the opportunity for 2 large-scale public art murals in designated “food deserts” to highlight the pressing issue of food insecurity in our communities. She is also an HATCH Intensive Training Cohort Fellow as sponsored by C4 Atlanta, Artist As Change Agent Fellow of 2019 as sponsored by EmcArts, Artists Campaign School of 2017 (Detroit, MI) Fellow as sponsored by Fractured Atlas, the 2018 GOLD Alumni Award Winner from Queens University of Charlotte and the 2017 Outstanding Leader In The Arts Award Winner from The Arts Empowerment Project.

Bree Stallings has been asked to speak, live paint, read poetry, present and facilitate workshops at the Community School of the Arts, Get Ready With Words, ImaginOn Library, C3 Lab, Blumenthal Arts and the Knight Theater, Discovery Place, the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center, The Levine Museum of the New South, the Liberal Arts College Symposium, Industry Charlotte, the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, UNCC Higher Education Symposium, the Foundation for the Carolinas among many other private and public events.


About the Project Manager

Dana L. Endsley, a resident of Mount Holly, is an artist, filmmaker, workshop facilitator and community events developer who believes that sharing stories is a powerful way to build connection. She excels at designing experiences that bring individuals and the creative process together. She has extensive experience in creating and leading events for a group or community with the intention of bringing people into connection with each other, particularly around issues of social justice. She holds a BA in psychology, is a graduate of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and has over 30 years of professional experience combining art, the use of story and the healing arts. Dana is currently a freelance artist/activist with Art for a Better Planet and program lead for About Face Charlotte.

May Barger, Public Art Consultant and Creative Placement Advisor, is a lifelong resident of Gastonia who has served two terms on the United Way of Gaston County’s board of directors. Currently an arts Leadership student at Queens University of Charlotte, she is also graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. She was instrumental in bringing the Raul Diaz sculpture to the Warlick Family Y in 2018 and is excited to continue introducing her hometown to the important role public art plays in beautification, economic development and creative thinking.


Artist Statement

A wise teacher once told me, “Find what breaks your heart and then commit to working with that”. As I went through the list of things that break my heart it became clear very quickly that the common thread was a lack of connection: with self, others, spirit, the earth. Everything that broke my heart could be traced back to one of these. That realization lead me to a life long commitment to use my creative energy and artistic expression to find ways to create community, guide people to go deeper within themselves, and bring greater understanding to causes for social justice, religious tolerance and environmental concerns.

Through “Art for a Better Planet”, the umbrella company, for my painting, filmmaking, workshops and community events, I am able to develop ways to bring people into a deeper sense of connection. One of the most powerful vehicles I have found to develop connection is through story. Whether I am working in paint, paper or video I am passionate about telling the stories of everyday people that need to be told.