The largest mural in the DC region brings beauty to an unexpected place

The largest mural in the DC region brings beauty to an unexpected place (Jay Korff/ABC7)

Local artists Cindy Wallace and Len Garon made a lot of runs to the paint store over the last few months.

“We’re going to do reds and pinks and yellows and greens and browns and blacks,” says Wallace.

They did so after being hired to literally alter the landscape of a Northern Virginia community.

Wallace says, “And it’s in celebration of the renaissance of the west end of Alexandria.”

For years, this part of Alexandria has been slowing moving away from a concrete jungle of smoke stacks and auto body shops to a more vibrant milieu of new housing and retail.

This duo was commissioned to paint a mural on a massive warehouse wall along Edsall Road that’s two stories tall and 300 feet long.

“I love painting on large canvasses but I think this will be by far my largest canvas,” laughs Wallace.

Their job was to paint the area’s history, left to right, along a wall the length of a football field.

Wallace says, “In the beginning we are starting with the American Indians and settling. And then there’s Fort Ward and the cannons and the Civil War to modern day times.”

Wallace and Garon landed this high-profile gig because they’re among the most respected artists in the region. But like the process of creating beauty from a blank canvas, their evolution as artists was unconventional.

Wallace is self-taught. Never went to art school or even took a lesson. Garon’s story is even more unlikely.“I got my masters in hospital administration. After three years of doing that, I really wanted to paint so I’ve been a painter ever since,” says Garon.

Garon went from the conventions of the board room to the limitless realm of the artist’s studio. He’s never looked back.

“I’m really composing poetry or music in space and making it work,” says Garon.

What transpired over the next two months for this talented pair would be equally eye-opening and, at times, frustrating.

Their personalities, styles and approach methods occasionally clashed.

Wallace admits with a chuckle, “We’re not always at each other’s throat. Maybe most of the time but not all the time.”

But as this picture slowly emerged, bringing radiance to a concrete corridor, this unlikely duo found inspiration in the people who inhabit this neighborhood.

“And a lot of people never even noticed this huge building until we started painting on it,” says Wallace.

Like Lisa J. Smith, who grew up here.

“This is my community in my mind and now I have a picture of it. It’s so beautiful,” says Smith.

Wallace adds, “The people that live in the apartments and condos that live across the street sit out on their decks and watching us paint.”

Munira Abdalla and neighbor Anita Padilla watched in wonder for weeks as the mural, called “Time Travel”, slowly unfurled.

“Every day I’ve been watching. It’s beautiful. Thank you so much,” says Abdalla.

Students from nearby Tucker Elementary visited the mural for a field trip.

“You’re here today because there’s an artist in you,” Garon told a sea of students.

“Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a community that celebrates art and makes our community look better?” says teacher Sean Murphy.

In fact, one student told us, “It’s so cool and it’s going to inspire me to be a better artist.”

In time, the mural's story of history and renewal took shape.

“It has been a long road but an amazing journey.” Says Wallace.

Wallace and Garon, their differences as distant as the history adorning their creation, were giddy when we met them on their final day of touch ups.

“And I think it says “I care” to the people," says Wallace.

They are grateful to have played a part in a community’s renaissance: to bring beauty to an unexpected place.

Wallace says, “We did. We brought a wall to life.”

The mural, officially called The Mural at Greenhill Properties, is located on a building at 611 S. Pickett Street in Alexandria. The mural is on the Edsall Road side of the building.

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