Williams brings his talent for murals to St. Paul

Mike Still • Nov 25, 2019 at 11:30 AM

St. PAUL — Andrew Williams started his Friday on Fourth Avenue by unloading a few gallons of paint, some mixing trays, brushes, a ladder and other supplies of his trade.

Williams’ trade — muralist — is standing him in good stead for his latest project as he creates a depiction of the town’s natural beauty and traditions on a railroad underpass wall.

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” the Dublin, Virginia, resident said as he started the day’s work of turning simple blue flowers into detailed, highlighted bluebells found around the town’s Clinch River banks. “I did mostly drawings as a kid and didn’t take up painting until I did my first mural.”

“Nobody’s made any Bob Ross jokes yet,” Williams laughed.

That first mural — painted a few years ago at the Draper Mercantile Inc. restaurant in Draper, Virginia — started a series of 11 more murals he did for businesses and towns across western and southwestern Virginia. The Draper mural also has brought him full circle now that his first client also runs a well-known local venue in St. Paul.

“I was a server at Draper Mercantile and did it as a thank-you to Chef Torrece Gregoire,” Williams said. “And now I’m working just down the street from her new restaurant, ima + forbes.”

From that first 180-foot long piece depicting music and transportation, Williams has painted murals in Pulaski, Radford, Salem, Lynchburg, Meadows of Dan and Wytheville.

The Wytheville mural became a pictorial slice of history about President Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith Bolling, who grew up there.

“The theme of my murals has been the history of places,” Williams said, “I learned a lot about Edith Bolling Wilson when I did the mural near the Edith Bolling Wilson Hotel.”

Kathy Stewart, director of town development organization St. Paul Tomorrow, said getting Williams for the project was good fortune in a couple of ways.

“I was at a state Department of Housing and Community Development conference and they had a pitch contest for downtown revitalization ideas,” Stewart said. “I thought, ‘What about murals?’ and we won $1,000. With that money and local funds, we were able to hire Andrew.”

“Andrew gave us a great proposal and, as far as working with us on ideas, he’s incorporated a lot of concepts that highlight St. Paul,” Stewart said.

On the western end of the underpass, Williams started with a clean black-and-white welcome sign in vintage lettering on the rail bridge abutment. The largest part of the project is a 100-foot-long, 15-foot-high wall on the other side of the bridge that he hopes to finish by the end of November.

After about a week and a half and 10 gallons of paint, Williams has set the main mural’s basics.

From the left side of the wall, Williams started with a background of trees with bluebells and other local flowers leading to the center with mountain slopes leading to the banks of the Clinch River. Toward the right of the mural, the 1948-vintage F3 diesel Clinchfield #800 locomotive highlights the area’s connection with the railroad and the annual Santa Train.

“I’ve been working on the right fonts for the engine’s lettering and numbers,” Williams said. “When I get to that end, I’ve got a couple of quarts of paint to mix the right blue and yellow colors for 800. I’m hoping to finish all of it by the end of November.”

Williams said the mural will also include herons and a bald eagle to reflect the colony of eagles roosting near the town.

“Every time I come by, there’s something new and some more details to see,” Stewart said.

Williams said his journey by mural across western Virginia has another personal connection.

“My wife is from Pound, and I’m interested in this area because of that.”

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