Paris Woodhull came to me via a box of press goodies promoting Porter Flea’s biannual market a few seasons ago. It turns out that I already knew this Knoxville artist’s work as I’ve been a long-time fan and frequent shopper at Knoxville makers’ haven, Rala, where Paris has worked and showcased her art for more than a decade. So when SVV and I reached out to Paris and asked if she wanted to paint a mural in Knoxville for us, I wasn’t sure if she’d think us crazy.
After all, she is an illustrator who had never painted a mural outdoors before, and all we had to go on was an 8-by-10 print that hangs in my office. But we just knew deep down that this was an artist who could accomplish anything.
And, luckily, she was game for a challenge!
“I might have a million questions for you guys along the way,” she told us on our first Zoom call last spring, “but as long as you don’t care, then I’m totally down to experiment!”
And so the story of our relationship with Paris Woodhull began.
Finding a space for a mural in Knoxville
Visit Knoxville was one of the first partners to sign on to participate in Walls for Women. This filled me with glee, as Knoxville is the home city of my mother and both her parents, not to mention the location of my alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Knoxville already has numerous murals spread throughout its various neighborhoods, but there’s always room for more, and the thriving art mecca it has become has me heading back for a visit at every chance to check out what’s new.
We’ve worked with Visit Knoxville on content marketing and writing projects in the past, but never on an art project so I wasn’t sure if backing a mural was something they were even interested in. However, after I emailed them at the beginning of the year, it didn’t take them long to come on board as a sponsor as one of our first Walls for Women partners. GBO!
Knowing we had funding, we set out as a team to find the perfect space with the help of the CVB, the Downtown Knoxville organization and the mayor’s office. It quickly became a collaborative project involving some of Knoxville’s best advocates and biggest movers and shakers. The problem? Knoxville is so booming right now that all the walls were already occupied or soon going to be covered up by construction.
the new “Windows to the Smokies” mural by Megan Lingerfelt
Ideally, we wanted Paris’ art to live near Market Square where a women’s suffrage sculpture stands proudly just a block from the Burn Memorial honoring young representative Harry T. Burn and his mother, Miss Febb, who changed the course of history.
Only, we had no luck connecting with any of the businesses surrounding Market Square who were willing to give us a wall.
And then Jim Civis came into our life.
Painting a mural at Printshop Beer Co.
I was growing nervous about finding a canvas worthy of Paris’ talents when I reached out to my friend Hannah Collins Lee, who I met through this blog eons ago. Hannah runs Second Mile Marketing in South Knoxville and knows just about everyone in town worth knowing. Need something in Knoxville? She’s your girl.
“Do you know anyone who would be a good partner for a mural project?” I texted her. “I’d love to do something in your neighborhood of SoKno but am hitting a wall (no pun intended).”
She wrote me back almost immediately and said, “I bet Jim Civis at Printshop Beer Co. would be game,” then followed up with an email introduction connecting Jim and me. I was already familiar with Printshop, as I’d met Hannah there for beers shortly after they opened two years ago and became a repeat visitor after that. The space is awesome, the beer is delicious, and the brewery is in a location poised to be the next arts district in Knoxville. All we needed was Jim to say “yes.”
Lucky for us, within moments of hopping on the phone with Jim, I knew he was our people. He basically said “you can put up whatever you want” and gave us free rein to paint his exterior, which is a founding tenet of the Walls for Women program: no dictated art, just freedom to create.
We took a quick overnight trip to meet him early in the summer; Paris met us at the wall; and BOOM—it was on.
Setting up the space for a mural
Most of our murals required the use of a lift, all of which Sunbelt Rentals generously provided, but Jim’s space was tricky, on a slope and would require scaffolding. We’re wrapping up our third year of murals as a nonprofit, so SVV thought it about time we invest in our own set of scaffolding. We purchased a sturdy rig—which happens to almost be the shade of UT orange—and set it up with Paris on the same weekend we prepped her wall with a coat of tricorn black.
Over those two days, we sprayed and hand-painted through some crazy wind and rainstorms that thwarted our progress on more than one occasion, forcing us inside to escape the elements. Good thing Printshop has plenty of beer on tap! Who needs water anyway?
Then, after we finished the base coat in the 11th hour, we left Paris to do her thing.
Seeing as this was her first outdoor mural, the process was new to her, but this is an artist who does her research. She’d been studying mural techniques all summer, gone back and forth with SVV when she got stumped, driven to our house to borrow our projector and had a call with Ty Christian, an insanely talented muralist out of Nashville we have worked with before who we consider a good friend and who was more than happy to teach her how to project. Artists supporting artists is what I love so much about running this nonprofit; everyone is genuinely kind and willing to share his or her talents.
what a mural looks like once projected before paint is added
That first night, Paris projected her drawing in six different pieces; the long, rectangular shape of the wall and the fact that it was obstructed by equipment made this wall even more challenging, but she persevered and finished around 2am.
The next day, she started painting her whimsical figures in a variety of skin tones, using a brush, roller and a palette of 18 different colors. “I want an even representation, and I think that’s been my biggest move as an artist, too,” she has said. “I don’t want to make political art, but I want to make sure I am representing all different types of people.”
Nine days later, on Aug. 11, “Victoria” was complete.
Paris named her mural for Victoria Claflin Woodhull, a distant relative of the Knoxville Woodhulls who is recognized as an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1872, she was the first woman to run for president of the United States as a member of the Equal Rights Party, which garnered recognition for the nomination of abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her vice-presidential running mate.
“I love that connection, and that I get to create something that is so me for this project,” Woodhull told UT’s School of Art in an article about her mural. “I feel that in a small way that I am carrying on her legacy by doing what I love.”
Thank you, Paris; thank you, Jim; and thank you Visit Knoxville for this dream collaboration of a project! My Big Orange heart grew three sizes that week. I didn’t think it possible to love Knoxville more, but this project bumped that pride up a whole other level. Go see “Victoria” on the side of Printshop Beer Co. in Knoxville and drink allllll the craft beer for me!
Read about the other Walls for Women murals here:
- Walls for Women Kicks Off! Here’s Where to Find New Murals in Tennessee
- Hebe’s Mark on McMinnville, Tennessee and the Mural in Her Honor
- How a Mural is Made: The Story of “Wisteria Maiden” in Tullahoma