Personality: Hamilton Glass
Spotlight on founder of Mending Walls RVA
9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
If you’ve been in Richmond for any amount of time, you’ve likely seen some of muralist Hamilton Glass’ distinctive work — large, colorful murals outside Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the East End; Refuge for Men hair salon alley on West Main Street; Boaz & Ruth on Meadowbridge Road in Highland Park; Emrick Flats in Jackson Ward; “Right of Passage” at the GRTC complex; and a collaborative mural done with Girls For A Change members at 24 E. Broad St.
The native of Philadelphia most recently founded Mending Walls RVA, a public art project that seeks to combine creative collaboration with challenging conversation to enable empathy and connection through art during these tumultuous times of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Through the project, 17 murals will be painted across the city, each done by pairs of artists from different cultures and backgrounds. This arrangement is meant “to create unique connections,” according to Mr. Glass, with the goal of giving the artists the chance to tell their stories together “in an effort to express healing through connection.”
The project is supported financially by The Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond, Altria and private donors, with the artists receiving stipends and free work materials.
“In this moment, we all are searching for more understanding,” says Mr. Glass.“This project will serve as a tool that would fuel connection through storytelling.”
So far, 22 artists, including Mr. Glass, have been paired for 11 of the project’s 17 murals. Eight murals have been completed, Mr. Glass says. The latest, “Her Flowers,” done by artists Amy Smith and S. Ross Browne and which focuses on young African-American women, debuted on Aug. 18 at 1100 Hull St. in South Side.
Mr. Glass worked with artist Matt Lively on a mural at 4 W. Broad St. on the sides of Image Enhancement Center and the former Rumors Bar and Grill. The mural is about the artists’ different childhoods and how discussing them built empathy for that time in their lives and the world views they developed.
According to its website, Mending Walls RVA is open to offers and suggestions for walls for its murals. It requests that the locations be in high traffic areas and connected with minority-owned businesses. Advertisements aren’t permitted within the murals.
“The hope is to bring about healing through public art, while adding something meaningful to the conversation of Black Lives Matter,” Mr. Glass says about the goals of Mending Walls RVA.
It will host a Virtual Community Discussion 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, with the artists as they talk about their backgrounds and coming together to create murals reflecting the racial justice and Black Lives Matter movements. Register at https://bit.ly/VirtualCommunityGathering.
Mr. Glass is balancing the Mending Walls project while he commences a separate project – a 200-foot “Black Lives Mural” to be painted in large yellow letters in the street Downtown leading to the Grace Street entrance of Capitol Square. Mr. Glass and artist Ed Trask are leading that privately funded project with Venture Richmond, a Downtown booster organization.
Mr. Glass cites recent events as his inspiration for starting Mending Walls, whose name was taken from a 1914 Robert Frost poem.
“As an artist, I needed to create to process all of the emotions that have been heightened with the pandemic and the social unrest,” Mr. Glass says. “I knew that if I was feeling that way, my fellow creatives were feeling that way, and the community as well.”
He points to a mural created for ALB Tech as both the moment he considered himself an artist and when he realized the impact his work could have. The controversial mural led to a suite of responses and conversations.
Mr. Glass already is looking “to explore what’s next for Mending Walls” and what it could mean for the city.
“My hope for Richmond is that the artwork for Mending Walls helps continue the conversation we are having in these heightened times,” Mr. Glass says.“I hope Richmonders see themselves and challenge themselves to see others in the work in a way they may not have before.”
Meet conversation-sparking public artist and this week’s Personality, Hamilton Glass:
Volunteer title: Artist and founder of Mending Walls RVA.
Date and place of birth: May 27 in Philadelphia.
Where I live now: Richmond.
Community involvement: Public artist.
Alma mater: Bachelor’s in architecture, Hampton University.
Family: Wife, Taekia Glass, and two children, Sanaa Glass, 10, and Amai Glass, 4.
Mending Walls RVA is: Mending Walls is a public art project that brings together public artists from different cultures and backgrounds to create murals that address where we are now in society and how we can move forward through understanding and collaboration. Mending Walls pairs artists of different backgrounds to create unique connections and give them an opportunity to tell their story collaboratively in an effort to express healing through connection. In this moment, we all are searching for more understanding and this project will serve as a tool that would fuel connection through storytelling. The hope is to bring about healing through public art while adding something meaningful to the conversation of Black Lives Matter.
Mending Walls RVA’s mission: To bring artists of different cultural backgrounds together to create art that inspires empathy and connection.
Inspiration for Mending Walls RVA: As an artist, I needed to create to process all of the emotions that have been heightened with the pandemic and the social unrest. I knew that if I was feeling that way, my fellow creatives were feeling that way, and the community as well. With all of the conversations, or lack thereof, happening, I wanted to create space for people to have a moment to talk and create together.
Story behind the project name: Mending Walls was derived from a Robert Frost poem published in 1914. Mending Walls narrates a story of two neighbors working on a wall between their two farms. As the men work, the narrator questions the purpose of a wall “where it is we do not need the wall,” but as the story goes on, his neighbor replies twice with the proverb, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It’s these hard conversations that the Mending Walls project is looking to help facilitate through public art. Oddly enough, this is the second time Robert Frost has been an inspiration for my art. I discovered him through a song that sampled his work.
What art is to me: Art to me is life. I try to use art to communicate the ideas that I don’t feel I have the words to articulate about my surroundings.
Why art inspires me: Art inspires me because it’s a universal language that empowers all. I believe creativity is something we all have and art is a vehicle to help display it.
Why art heals: It’s my belief that art heals because it speaks to the inner creativity in all of us.
First time I considered myself an artist and realized its impact: When I created the piece on ALB Tech of a politician with a gun to his head. Again, that was me expressing how I was feeling at the time and processing through my emotions. The response and conversations from people who liked it, and from those who didn’t, were interesting and inspired folks, but also forced some to get uncomfortable.
Why public art is vital for a community like Richmond: Because it lets us present our identity and express our city’s diversity in a way for us all to experience. It also removes barriers to experiencing art.
Intention for the artists participating in Mending Walls: My intention for all the artists participating is to have an experience in getting to know someone’s views outside of your own and having to step out of their own shoes to create a successful collaboration. It’s also to highlight other artists in the community.
Hope for Richmonders when viewing the murals: My hope is that the artwork for Mending Walls helps continue the conversation we are having in these heightened times. I hope Richmonders see themselves and challenge themselves to see others in the work in a way they may not have before.
Number of murals in project: There will be 17 murals total this year from the Mending Walls RVA project. Artists’ names and addresses of murals are:
• Austin “Auz” Miles and Nico Cathcart, 2928 North Ave.
• Emily Herr and Amiri Richardson-Keys, 28 N. 20th St.
• Jowarnise Caston and Ian C. Hess, Virginia Museum of History & Culture
• Silly Genius and Nils Westergard, 3311 W. Broad St.
• Prent Carroll and Charles Berger, 2907 W. Marshall St.
• Noah Scalin and Alfonso Perez, 300 E. Broad St.
• Hasson Roberts and Shaylen Broughton, 2626 W. Broad St.
• MeMe and David Marion, 1625 Hull St.
• Ed Trask and Jason Ford, 504 W. Broad St.
• Amy Smith and S. Ross Browne, 1100 Hull St.
• Hamilton Glass and Matt Lively, 4 W. Broad St.
There are more addresses and artists to be announced in the coming weeks.
How to request a mural: Mending Walls is always looking for new locations for the public art that we support. In order to be considered as a potential site location, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the address of the wall, along with a photo and any other details that might be important about the location.
Themes covered in the murals: Mending Walls murals so far have spoken about everything from racial justice to childhood differences. Each mural is an organic conversation between two artists that produces a different dialogue on every wall. To hear more about each wall from the artists, check out the Mending Walls podcast.
How I start the day: That this day is a chance to do more than the day before.
A perfect day for me is: Not having to answer one single email—which never happens.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I am a big car enthusiast and watch fanatic.
A quote that I am most inspired by: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” — James Baldwin
My friends describe me as: Laid back and hard-working.
At the top of my “to-do” list: Be more creative.
Best late-night snack: Pizza.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: I can do anything I can put my mind to.
Person who influenced me the most: My mother is one of the most self-motivated and hardest working individuals I know.
Favorite poet and why: At the moment, my favorite poem is “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. The poem expresses the same sentiment of collaboration that is thought of in my project, which is why I named the project after the poem.
Author who influenced me the most: I’ve always loved James Baldwin. His thoughts around art have always spoken to me.
What I’m reading now: Honestly, I haven’t had the time to pick up a book in a while.
Next goal: To explore what’s next for Mending Walls. I believe empathy, connection and collaboration is the root of this movement, which has the opportunity to be a healing platform.