Richmond-based artist Duncan Robertson spent two weeks in June painting a mural depicting mountain musicians on a large blank wall across from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, dramatically adding to Crozet’s wealth of big wall art.
The painting was a project of the Charlottesville Mural Project, which produces two murals a year, and the New City Arts Initiative, and part of a summer mural painting series called Poetry and Painting that aims to incorporate poetry into murals. Project director Ross McDermott helped Robertson, who did the design, with the initial blocking out of the image. Robertson has done other murals, but this is the largest, roughly 40 long and 35 feet high, and the first to be outdoors.
During June, Starr Hill’s Cheers for Charity program, which gives $1 from every pint of beer sold in the tasting room to a charitable cause, donated to the Charlottesville Mural Project.
The mural shows a train leaving Claudius Crozet’s 1858 tunnel, a panorama of Blue Ridge Mountain landscape, and two musicians, a fiddle player (Robertson’s wife Shannon posed as the model) and a banjo player. Well-known Richmond banjo player Red Lewis (leader of the band Red Lewis and The Letting Go) posed for that figure. The mural features a lyric from a song by the band Hurray for the Riff Raff, “My Heart is a Blue Ridge Mountain” (from their song Blue Ridge Mountain, on the album Small Town Heroes) that provides the theme for the painting. Starr Hill arranged for permission to use the lyric, which is a nod to Maybelle Carter.
Raised in Maryland, Robertson has lived in Richmond since coming to Virginia Commonwealth University to study art, specifically illustration, 10 years ago. After graduating he attended a seven-week Illustration Academy, taught by professional illustrators, where he said he learned as much as in his college studies.
“The pipes on the wall and the corrugated metal [siding] threw me off a little. When I did the design I tried to account for them. The most detail ended up [on that section of the wall]. It interrupted mark-making. I couldn’t make a continuous stroke. I had to change brushes to a tiny one and sculpt lines. I had to get up and down a lot to look at the wall. What looked straight when I painted it actually looked curved from the road.”
The project also changed his mind some about using spray paint. “I’ve never used spray before. I prefer holding a brush. I try to avoid hiccups, like might happen with spray, but now I see the why about them. You can do fluid motions with spray. The forgiving thing about the wall being big was my strokes could be big. When you step back, it gets crisper.”
Starr Hill hosted a signing event June 26 and Robertson painted his name on the wall. Starr Hill also debuted its new label and packaging designs. (Only the star remains from the original designs.) “We hope the mural serves as a gift to the Crozet Community,” said Starr Hill CEO Brian McNelis, who explained that the glare off the wall into the tap room had made the brewery want to paint it a darker color.
“I tend to be a perfectionist and keep coming back to things, so the signing event on Friday night made the project seem complete to me,” Robertson said. He expects to check in on the mural again.
“We come to Charlottesville all the time,” said Robertson. “I proposed on Humpback Rocks. We’ve been looking around here and we’ve fallen in love with Crozet.
“The cars going by that honked and waved were the people of Crozet and that was the highest praise for adding something to their life. They have to look at it everyday and I appreciate that. That was the highlight. I could catch kids with wide eyes looking at it. It reminded me of my awe at a young age. They would yell ‘thank you!’ and that humbled me and kept me going.”
All the paint came from Blue Ridge Builder’s Supply in Crozet. “Those guys were great,” said Robertson.
Robertson was an extra in the movie Lincoln when it was filmed in Richmond and he appears in the scene of Lincoln’s death. The setting and performance were so convincing that he was moved by it and got a deeper appreciation of who Lincoln was. He has an ambition to paint the scene and has done some studies of figures who will appear in it.
Robertson’s next projects are what he calls “editorial,” meaning they are illustrations for magazine or advertising work, something that promotes something. But he’s in the mood for more murals, too.
To see more of Robertson’s work, visit www.duncanillustration.com.