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Hampton mural features Nancy Hanks train

By Valerie Baldowski

Hampton artist Kathy Williford is attracting attention by using the tools of her trade, in an outdoor setting.

Williford, owner of Williford Studios in Hampton, is painting a mural of the "Nancy Hanks" train on the side of the Hampton Downtown Development Association's Margaret B. Burdeshaw building. The mural, 17.5 feet wide, and 10 feet high, is of the historic train chugging down the tracks.

Williford began her artistic project five weeks ago. She said she anticipates completing it in another week, or two.

"Parts of the mural go beyond the rectangle," she said. "There will be little life-size children standing on the ground, in front of the picture. Then I'll do a 'strong cast' shadow on the wall, so it will look like they're stepping back from the wall a little ways."

Williford said local merchants and residents passing through the area seem fascinated with the mural taking shape.

"The community interest has been tremendous," added Williford. "Being my first outdoor mural, I've never had this kind of interaction with community members before. I've developed my own little fan club."

Vanessa Lyon, an employee of Adams Asset Management, a real estate company at 28 East Main St., has been monitoring Williford's progress. She is two doors down from where the artist is working.

Lyon said she has taken a break from work regularly to view the mural. "I've been taking pictures on my cell phone every day," she said. "I've just been amazed with it. It's interesting to see it come to life. I can't wait to see her put the kids on there," she added.

The City of Hampton commissioned Williford to do the work at a cost of less than $5,000, said Candy Franklin, Hampton Main Street Director.

"They [city officials] talked about doing a mural, and I told them that I had a friend who did murals," she said. Franklin said she began the process by asking Williford to provide a preliminary sketch of what she had in mind.

"They liked it, and approved it," said Franklin. "I'm glad that city hall approved it."

The work is "simply awesome," Franklin said.

"She's doing it so much faster than I thought it would go," added the Hampton Main Street director. "It's just totally amazing that anybody can do something more than a stick figure."

Franklin said Williford will paint one of the city employees in the maintenance department on the rear of the train.

The mural enhances the city's historic atmosphere, Franklin said. "We'd love to become a mural city," Franklin continued.

Williford has been painting indoor murals for 10 years, and said this is her first outdoor mural. She said she got the idea for the mural because Hampton is her home. The mural concept is part of the city's efforts to beautify the downtown area, said Williford.

"A lot of the little downtowns across the country have murals," Williford said. Since the train is such an important part of Hampton's history, when they were talking about doing murals, of course that would be a logical subject to portray."

Williford said originally there were two "Nancy Hanks" trains.

"I chose to do the first Nancy Hanks, because everybody around here, all the older folks, remember...riding on the Nancy Hanks II," she said. "The original Nancy Hanks was this steam engine, so it was perfect subject matter."

Williford said she researched the train to learn its history.

"From what I understand, the train was built in 1892. There was a slow version, and then there was a faster version, [in] 1893, somewhere around there. It was built for the Central Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia, and I put that emblem on the front.

"The number that was actually on the engine, according to the Internet, was 1592, so that's the number I put on there," Williford said.

The Nancy Hanks was either the first, or one of the first, named steam engines in the country. The name was derived from a trotting horse with the same name, that won a horse racing derby, she continued.

"Because they were so impressed with the speed of the train, they named her the Nancy Hanks," said Williford.