RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A mural honoring tennis legend and Richmond native Arthur Ashe in Battery Park has been restored after some vandals defaced it in October of 2021.
The mural was originally unveiled in 2017 by Sir James Thornhill, one of the lead artists behind the painting, in collaboration with Hamilton Glass and the U.N.I.T.Y Street Project.
“When they [first] took me to the tunnel, I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a great idea. The first tunnel work in Virginia.’ I couldn’t wait, and then it was on. It was inspirational,” said Thornhill. “Arthur Ashe, Maggie Walker and people you don’t hear much about [are] on these walls. It’s just immortalizing them. It’s like putting hieroglyphics on the walls so people can come in and be educated.”
A video surfaced in 2022 of two people vandalizing the mural, putting symbols referencing the white supremacist group Patriot Front over Ashe’s face at the entrances to the park’s basketball and tennis courts. The vandals were also seen painting over excerpts about his life which were written on the tunnel.
“I couldn’t believe it. My heart just dropped to the floor. I was so hurt,” said Thornhill. “Not just because of the time we put into it, but it is in your own neighborhood. Suppose we had been out there painting? Suppose some kids had been out there playing? That was the scary part about it.”
A group of Richmonders filed a lawsuit in 2022 against Patriot Front, who they believe are responsible for the graffiti.
“If somebody takes the time to spray paint all that, there’s no telling what these guys might do,” Thornhill said.
Thornhill said he started to repaint the artwork in 2022 and finished up this year.
“Trying to recap all those shades and things was really a challenge,” he said.
Thornhill said he’s thankful for the outpour of support and love from the community.
“The neighbors are now smiling, and you can walk back through there with a happy look on your face again,” he said.
In 2022, The Richmond Police Department said it was using the video of the vandals in their investigation. 8News has reached out to the department to find out if any arrests have been made in the case, and has not yet received a response.