Nina Argel

Over three years ago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, an artist from Richmond, Virginia created a community-building project to promote healing and advance social justice through murals. 

Hamilton Glass — a local Richmond artist — created the project known as Mending Walls. The project paired partners and teams of artists hailing from different communities and perspectives to collaborate on murals, pushing the artists to delve into differences and conversations regarding racial and social justice while creating public art pieces that provoke conversations. 

With the motto of this project being “We need to talk,” Glass said he aimed to spark these vital conversations beyond the murals and into the community itself, helping people delve deeper into these topics, and moving them to collaborate in pursuit of change. 

“Mending walls is about conversation … the art is the eye candy, but the conversation’s really the gem of the project,” Glass said.  

Over three years later, the News spoke to Glass and other artists about the development of the project and how it continues to impact the local community every day. One way Mending Walls continues to involve the community is by offering a variety of biking and walking tours that delve into Richmond areas like Jackson Ward and the Museum District, immersing attendees into the art by pairing narrations with the murals. 

Glass’ inspiration began with a conversation with a fellow artist where he was amazed by how much empathy and consideration of contrasting backgrounds helped open his eyes up to different perspectives. This perspective-altering conversation and level of connection was what inspired the creation of Mending Walls; Glass wanted to give Richmonders the opportunity to delve into the diverse perspectives of others and cultivate a well-rounded worldview.

Addressing different areas of Richmond – a city known for its arts scene with local galleries, museums and its Arts District — the artists of Mending Walls took the familiar medium of paint and used it to stimulate conversations that they said are often deemed uncomfortable, such as those regarding race, history and the socio-political climate. This is especially seen in one of the project’s murals titled “Her Flowers” which portrays a 12-year-old Black girl at the center, fist raised while clutching a portrait of Maggie L. Walker — a Richmonder who rose from economic hardships and racism to become the first-ever Black woman to own a bank. Murals like this, according to Glass, amplify the importance of both the contemporary and historical narrative of the young Black woman, pushing Richmond to confront its history of systemic racism and minority oppression. Weaving these important topics into the Mending Walls murals helps bring to light facets of contemporary society that are vital to acknowledge to truly understand the injustices occurring in the city and worldwide. 

With the proliferation of these murals, Glass said the message of Mending Walls grew quickly — as did the collaborative efforts to create these murals. Having been a public artist for almost a decade, Glass said it was not hard to find others willing to join this project, and through the pairs and teams of artists that he created to help him catalyze Mending Walls, conversations about social justice and differing backgrounds took place, just as Glass wished it would. 

Nico Cathcart, a participating artist in Mending Walls, said her perspective changed through collaborating with someone from a different background. 

“I hadn’t really thought about the aspects of genealogy and race …  I’m White and European and I have a name that I can trace back through records … but [my co-muralist] can’t do that,” Cathcart said. 

 This expansion of perspective and level of reflection was not limited to Cathcart’s project. 

Painting in the Richmond area of Northside, Cathcart said members of the community would stop and engage with Cathcart and her co-muralist, curious about Mending Walls and its message. 

Ultimately, on the anniversary of the murder of Fred Hampton — an American activist who was known for taking action against issues like racism and police brutality — a local activist who was intrigued by Mending Walls organized a gathering at the mural where Richmonders were able to speak their beliefs through speeches, readings and song. At that moment, Cathcart realized how the community became a part of the murals and how their effect was “beyond what was happening on the wall.” 

From police brutality and racial injustice to inequalities rooted in history, the topics Mending Walls touches on are heavy and complex, one of the first muralists in Mending Walls Ian C. Hess said.  

Hess explained how at times it felt like he and fellow Mending Walls artists were tasked with “trying to solve multi-generational, multi-thousand-year problems by putting some paint on a wall,” but that ultimately, the usage of art as a medium for change is important. By utilizing these murals, artists are able to make them into a type of “touchstone” for larger issues to “starting conversations instead of finishing them.” 

“I think creativity is one of those things that can bring people together … not in experience, but it can create that safe space” Glass said, and later mentioned how Mending Walls will continue to foster that safe space in the future through the exploration of different mediums in addition to murals, such as poetry and dance. 

Mending Walls was founded by Hamilton Glass in 2020.