Destination Vacation: ‘Art for everyone’ on just about every block

Destination Vacation

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Throughout the City of Richmond, buildings are adorned with murals that tell a story of the community and its history.

For those visiting Richmond for the first time, or for residents who are native to the area, there are more than an estimated 200 murals, according to Liz Farber with The Valentine, and more in progress.

“There’s just art everywhere and you can really get inspired by it and just enjoy it for what it is, or try and find out more of the meaning behind it,” Farber said. “It really is art for everyone.”

This alley mural was painted by Nils Westergard, who grew up in northern Virginia and graduated from VCU. The mural depicts Michael Millions, a local rapper. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

During the coronavirus pandemic, The Valentine, a local museum dedicated to Richmond’s history, created free, self-guided mural tours. But the museum also offers in-person tours.

“You can pretty much walk down any street and find a mural in Richmond,” Farber said.

There are murals in Church Hill, The Fan, Jackson Ward, Museum District, and more. Farber said that the Richmond Mural Project put up 100 such works of art over the course of five years. Other groups, such as Mending Walls and U.N.I.T.Y. Street Project are responsible for many of the other murals throughout the city, as are independent artists and businesses.

“It can lead to a bigger picture of the city as a whole and the different neighborhoods as a whole,” Farber said. “I think these murals help to give […] maybe a little bit of a better retelling of what the actual history was of the city, or at least, a more inclusive history that represents all people that are here and that have been here the whole time.”

Crafted by muralist and Richmond native Sir James Thornhill, this mural honors the first African-American world champion cyclist. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

For example, Jackson Ward has a concentration of murals, many of which were painted by local artist Hamilton Glass. According to The Valentine, he produces approximately 40 murals each year.

One such mural was painted in partnership with U.N.I.T.Y. to pay tribute to two Jackson Ward legacies: James Russell Stallings, Sr. and Neverett Alexander Eggleston, Sr.

Farber said that Stallings dropped out of Richmond Public Schools at age 13 and went to work at a chicken factory before joining the U.S. Air Force as a cook. He went on to manage a rental car company for 37 years, and began buying properties on the side. These real estate holdings in Jackson Ward were considered historic, such as Slaughter’s Hotel, Miller’s Hotel, Perry’s Restaurant and the Hippodrome.

Farber said that the numerous murals along the canal walk are the work of RVA Street Art. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

As for Eggleston, Farber said that he was born in Henrico County, eventually leaving for New York City and witnessing the Harlem Renaissance there firsthand. That inspired the Eggleston Hotel, which would go on to become a gathering for Richmond’s Black elite, such as travelers and celebrities, who were not allowed to stay in white establishments.

“When I’ve talked to muralists […] some of them just want to put their art up and they want their art to just be seen as art,” Farber said. “Some of them really consider the neighborhood and the fact that they’re putting art up, public art art up that’s going to be seen and, you know, what kind of impression do they want to leave for the people who live there, who are coming to visit it.”

This mural by Aniekan Udofia depicts Luther “Bojangles” Robinson, who was born in Richmond in 1878. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

Along the mural tour in Jackson Ward, which starts at 325 N 2nd Street in Richmond, where there is a mural on the side of J KOGI, there are several eateries for tourists and local residents alike to refuel for more art and history. Farber recommended Soul Taco, Mama J’s Kitchen, J KOGI and Salt & Forge, all located near murals on the tour.

“You get your art, you get your history, you get to walk around a neighborhood that, maybe, you’re not as familiar with,” she said. “Support local restaurants that have really struggled and had a hard time during the pandemic.”

Click here for more information on The Valentine’s self-guided tours. Tickets can be purchased for the museum’s in-person tours here, and tickets for Richmond Mural Tours’ guided mural walks can be purchased here.

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