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Public Art Beautifies Abingdon, VA

Public art installations enrich, inspire community.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on April 26, 2016

A colorful mural depicting Abingdon, VA’s history sits on the wall of local Brandywine Antiques
Earl Neikirk

It’s no secret that Abingdon and art go hand-in-hand. Long known as an ideal destination for creators and art admirers alike, the city is home to countless galleries and artist studios, as well as museums, music venues, and the revered Barter Theatre and Barter Stage II. In recent years, the community’s creative spirit has become even more evident as public art installations now dot the landscape, creating extraordinary beauty in ordinary places.

“Everything about Abingdon is conducive to the arts,” says Marcy K. Miller, executive director of the William King Museum of Art. “The natural scenery with the Blue Ridge Mountains and South Holston Lake is so inspiring, and the Virginia Creeper Trail is a great place for artists to walk and contemplate.”

Downtown Abingdon Public Art

Located on the wall of Brandywine Antiques, a colorful mural depicting Abingdon’s history faces the community park on West Main Street. The mural, created by Ellen Elmes, covers a 45-by-15 foot space and features images iconic to the community, such as soldiers at the muster grounds before the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Barter Theatre. Completed in 2014, the mural was funded by the Town of Abingdon; Virginia Commission for the Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development; and local businesses, organizations and residents.

“It’s gorgeous,” Miller says. “It was just a big, plain, white wall that was sort of crying out for something to make it pretty.”

Downtown Abingdon also includes decorated traffic signal boxes, which came about after an anonymous donor traveled to another community, saw its artful boxes and brought the idea back home. The metal boxes are wrapped in weatherproof, long-lasting vinyl material that features reproductions of paintings created by local artists.

“We wanted to do something that allowed our artists to make their mark,” says Jennifer Montgomery, executive director of Abingdon Main Street, an accredited National Main Street program that works to make the downtown district an appealing place to live and visit.

In addition, painted fiberglass wolf statues are scattered throughout downtown Abingdon, paying homage to the town’s original name of Wolf Hills. Known as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Wolves?,” the project began in 2009 as a fundraiser for Advance Abingdon (now called Abingdon Main Street). The wolves were purchased at auction by local residents and businesses, and today there are more than 20 wolves on display downtown.

According to Montgomery, Abingdon Main Street is creating a public art walking trail guide, which will make it easy for visitors to see all the downtown area’s installations.

Abingdon’s Artful Sculptures

Just outside of downtown, the William King Museum of Art includes an outdoor sculpture garden with seven permanent pieces and approximately 25,000 square feet of indoor exhibits. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome to visit the sculpture garden both during and outside of the museum’s hours of operation.

“The sculptures are on a beautiful hill with fantastic views, so we encourage people to come with picnic baskets and enjoy the grounds,” Miller says.

The museum plans to add more sculptures to the garden through its “Out in the Open: Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition,” which is open to all Appalachian artists age 18 and older. Competitors can work independently or in groups, and each artist or group can submit as many as three sculptures for consideration. Winners’ works will be on display in the garden through July 15, 2018.

In addition, one of Abingdon’s most popular sculptures, a powder-coated steel sign spelling out “LOVE,” is located on the Martha Washington Inn & Spa lawn. The letter “O” in the sign includes a howling wolf silhouette, and according to Amanda Livingston, marketing manager of the Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau, the sculpture has been a favorite photo backdrop since it was installed in 2013.

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