Local artist makes the most of chance

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 4, 2001


PHOTO: Above, local artist Chad Williamson points to the intricate details in his mural of the St. John Parish Courthouse in Edgard. The painting is on the wall directly behind Clerk of Court Eliana DeFrancesch’s desk. Below, Williamson displays art he painted on paper towels with toothpaste and red ink at a time when he was running low on art supplies. (Staff Photos by Amy Szpara) EDGARD – Renovations to the St. John Parish Courthouse are in full swing, and the walls are looking a lot more colorful since murals, paintings and colored pencil art is going up. The idea to spruce the building up is taking off, and one local artist has had a hand in the work. Chad Williamson recently completed a mural that sits behind Clerk of Court Eliana DeFrancesch’s desk in her office. The painting is a combination of two early courthouse scenes captured by photographs DeFrancesch found in her office when she was elected a little over a year ago. Williamson, who does murals, wall paintings, colored pencil sketches, oil paintings and just about anything else artistic, took on the task of sketching and painting the scene. He first began working on the mural when he was in the inmate work program at the Sherman R. Walker Correctional Center for a simple theft charge. After associating himself with people who had stolen items and becoming aware of the crime after the fact, he was arrested and has paid restitution. “It was a bad situation. It was stupid,” Williamson said of the incident, which was the only time he has ever been arrested. He continued working on the mural after his release, and now he is focusing full-time on his art. He added a few people on the steps of the mural before completing it because he thought life was needed in the scene. “It was springtime when I was doing it. The wind should be blowing in the picture, I thought. I wanted it to be historical, but fun, too. I added the car because it needed one,” he said. The two palm trees on either side of the painted building add some bright green to the picture and were taken from one of the photos. Williamson said he had never painted a palm tree, so he picked a branch off the ground from one of the outside trees and had someone hold it up for him to paint. The vault has also been livened up, as Williamson painted columns around the door and art work above it. The columns on the vault were designed after some Michelangelo drawings that DeFrancesch found in an art book. “I have been touring other clerk’s offices,” said DeFrancesch. “I wanted to beautify the courthouse, make it more aesthetically pleasing to the public when they come to court.” The St. John Parish Council supplied the clerk’s office with paint, and DeFrancesch enlisted some of the inmates at the correctional center to paint all of the judges’ offices. Through the inmate work program, Sheriff Wayne L. Jones helped DeFrancesch update the courthouse. She said rolling files will arrive Monday to make records more easily accessible. Williamson created a real-life depiction of Evergreen Plantation on River Road not far from the courthouse. The colored pencil sketch will hang in the clerk’s office, and he is currently creating a portrait of San Francisco Plantation to sit next to it. He has just begun trying to make a living by using his artistic skills. He painted DeFrancesch’s husband’s office, Attorney Fred DeFrancesch, with faux effects, a method that Williamson described as “a study in dimension and light.” Another addition to the courthouse sits at the back entrance of the building, where a person-sized Statue of Liberty replica stands with a painted United States Flag surrounding it, also created by Williamson. The statue, a gift given to Eliana DeFrancesch from her husband upon the night of her inauguration, has floated from place to place in the building, but now has a permanent home. DeFrancesch has many more plans for the courthouse, but her ideas will have to be brought before the council before she can make any more renovations. Williamson, who will work on future paintings at the courthouse if the council gives the go-ahead, is in the meantime working locally with his art. “I feel at peace when I paint. I feel like that’s what I was born to do. Ever since I can remember, I was painting and sketching,” said Williamson, who added that his grandmother used to scold him for drawing on the walls with pencil, lipstick or anything else that would mark. “All through school I got in trouble for drawing in class. I could look at my picture, though, and it would jog my memory of what the teacher was talking about in class,” he said. While at the correctional center, Williamson did not have access to art supplies, but this fact did not stop him from painting. He used brown paper towels as canvas and white toothpaste and red ink to make the color pink for flowers. (Shown in second photo) Williamson said the work at Fred DeFrancesch’s office will keep him busy for a while, and he is also doing some portraits for other people on the side. For now his courthouse mural will be the only one to grace the building, but he is hoping the council will approve more. Looking at the wall painting, he said, “That will be there forever, as long as they don’t knock it down.”