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Artist Hamilton tackles largest project yet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charly Hamilton has painted hundreds of objects, large and small, in his long career, even a home or two during a stint as a housepainter before he hit his artistic stride.

Nothing, however, as big as his latest challenge -- a mural that will cover the side wall of a historic building on West Washington Street near the corner of Tennessee Avenue.

"I've painted billboards, but they were 14 by 26 [feet]," Hamilton said. "I did a mural in the country, 25 by 20. This will be the biggest one, 30 by 60."

The mural's target location is the east face of the 100-year-old brick building at 303 West Washington St., home not too long ago to Freeman's Restaurant. With no neighboring structures to block the view, it's a prime spot -- highly visible to motorists entering the Elk City district from downtown.

Owner Tighe Bullock had that in mind when he bought and restored the building last year.

"The idea is to increase pedestrian traffic," Bullock said. "We're trying to draw more people to the area. Charly's art -- you have to get up close to see the detail.

"About a year ago I power-washed the wall, repointed it and painted over it. I wanted to give it a year to see how it would hold up. I wanted to give Charly the best canvas he could possibly have."

Bullock's father, Gaddy Engineering owner John Bullock, wanted to make sure Hamilton got paid for his work, so he started rounding up backers. A pioneer in the revitalized Elk City district, John Bullock oversaw an extensive historic restoration of another building nearly across the street.

"My company and I put in $1,000," he said. Brooks McCabe, Lewis Payne and the First Bank of Charleston chipped in toward the goal of $6,000. "West Side Main Street agreed to close the gap, up to $3,000."

The Bullocks originally planned to raise all the money privately, Tighe Bullock said.

"After talking with [Main Street Director] Stephanie Johnson, we found there was some funding available. We just had to go through the proper channels."

Those channels included an appearance before the Municipal Beautification Commission, which has informal regulatory authority over outdoor art. The group gave its blessing last month.

That doesn't mean Hamilton will paint the exact design he showed the agency.

"I'm using the original painting as sort of the advertisement for [the final product]. It will be changed a little bit.

Some modifications are necessary to work around five upstairs windows, which weren't drawn into the original design. In a future second phase, he hopes to provide some kind of special window treatment, like operable painted shutters, to complement the mural.

Like other Hamilton paintings, including the three murals he's done beneath Interstate 64 in the Peer to Pier project, his latest design is full of detail. There are buildings, people and animals all crammed together in a colorful swirling panorama of West Washington Street as seen from the Interstate 64 overpass.

You might not be able to tell at first glance, but the old Staats Hospital building is at the left, identified by three white-coated medics gathered around an operating table on the roof and a trio of skeletons below. That's Kelley's Mens Shop at the far right, with a couple of blue dogs patrolling the second floor.

In the center, a motley parade of Union soldiers, dancers from January's Academy, religious figures and musicians head toward Elk River.

Hamilton promises to include images of real-life people, in part to honor some of his supporters. Folks who stop by to watch Hamilton paint could wind up in the mural too.

"He's told me he can put anyone I want in it, and anyone I don't want," Tighe Bullock said.

"Charly gave us copyright rights, so West Side Main Street can put [the image] on T-shirts and bags," he said.

In addition to commissioning the mural, the Bullocks promise to keep it in good condition.

"My company, Gaddy Engineering, will maintain it for five years," John Bullock said.

"One thing we need is some scaffolding. We're hoping the city might provide leftover scaffolding from the pier murals."

Painting could start as early as this week, as soon as workers clean and apply a layer of black primer, he said.

"I've got a deadline of Dec. 1," Hamilton said. "If it goes past that, I'll set up a Christmas tree lot."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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