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Writing on the Wall | By Melissa Goslin Collins


Ashley Wilson is something of a throwback, and not the kind who dons bell-bottom pants or listens to hits from the ‘80s. She is an artistic throwback, the sort who paints Tuscan landscapes and aspires to the skill level of the old masters. Fresh and energetic at barely 20 years old, she admires Botticelli and exudes a confidence exceeding her age. One quick flip through her sketchbook of exquisitely-drawn fairytale creatures shows she is undoubtedly made of creative fabric, but in speaking with her, it is her work ethic that astonishes. “It’s easy to be lazier these days and not paint to the old skill level,” she said. “I think it’s amazing that so long ago people created such a higher level of artwork than we do now.” For someone so young, Wilson has a strong sense of history. A student at Wingate University, Wilson had been thinking about painting murals for quite some time. So, when her father pointed to an Italian setting – albeit on a placemat – and asked her if she could draw it in the eating area off his kitchen, she jumped at the opportunity. “I knew I could do it,” she said, also admitting there were a few nervous moments along the way. “Here I was, drawing on my dad’s wall. It was a little scary.” As for her art-collecting father, David Wilson, the mural is a daily source of pride. “There’s a Bob Timberlake hanging near the mural,” he explained. “No offense to Mr. Timberlake, but I actually prefer Ashley’s work.” A slight bias is forgiven a doting father but he promises there’s more to it than that. “I have a lot of canvases,” he said, “but it’s different when you see the artist draw it out. It’s such a warm feeling to watch it come alive right there, like magic.” Murals also open up a room and draw in the spectator in a way other original artwork cannot. This budding muralist is not only a talented visual artist but performing artist. She is studying art and vocal performance at Wingate. Growing up in Fayetteville, Wilson nurtured her operatic voice. “Cape Fear Regional Theatre was a huge part of my life, and I have to thank them for any performance skills I may have,” she said. “I lived there for a while.” Her teachers at Terry Sanford High School also took notice of her talent. Her teacher and mentor, Sandra Williams, encouraged Wilson to send out her work and with good result. An impressionistic scene landed a Gold Key at the Scholastic Art Awards then moved to the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol where it hung for a full year. A Parisian street scene was also chosen for a showing at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. However, it was an insect assignment that still stands out to Williams. “Ashley chose a large beetle, then added details of an etymology book and magnifying glass to the background,” she said. “She expanded this one little bug into a great big composition.” After 22 years of nurturing Fayetteville’s aspiring artists, Williams understands the power of talent backed by drive. “Younger students would come in and be in awe of Ashley’s work, but they would also see her really working hard to get those details in,” she said. “It encouraged other students to work harder as well.” It probably would come as no surprise to those students that Wilson is now a double major at Wingate University. If it seems overwhelming, occasionally it is. “Whenever I feel like my life is going a little crazy, I just paint and think about nothing but creating,” she says. “I have sat at times and drawn and not moved for 12 hours. Art is grounding. I see people around me at college get bored, or upset and don’t know what to do, but I can sit and draw and be perfectly content.” She realizes that many people may not regard her choices as practical. “It can be scary,” she admits, thinking about the current state of the economy, “but I’m just trying to do what I love.” And one of her loves is the transformative power of murals. In addition to dining rooms or other areas of a home, murals can be extremely appealing in children’s rooms. “Art is inspiring,” Wilson said. “I am in my element being creative, and where can you be more creative than working for children? I can paint fairytale creatures, and fairies, maybe a seascape. They would get up every morning and see that. It adds a lot of joy, a lot of fun, something exciting.” The potential seems limitless: a racecar bed begs for a road to wind into the distance behind it, a future scientist is encouraged by a laboratory painted on closet doors, and a shipwrecked island serves as fodder for the imagination of a young pirate. Wilson realizes that as children grow up, tastes sometimes change, so she uses acrylic paint and makes her murals as smooth as possible. “Just in case,” she said. “They could eventually paint over it with no problem.” And not every subject or scene might be appropriate for a mural. “If an idea was too outlandish, I might suggest an original piece of art for them instead,” Wilson said. “There are some big canvases out there, so they could get a similar effect without it being so permanent.” Perhaps Wilson’s business sense and work ethic stem from a life spent quietly honing her craft. Her father vividly recalls the first time he recognized his daughter’s gift. While vacationing at Lake Lure, a then 8- or 9-year-old Ashley sketched away happily on her napkin – the result being an exact replica of the bridge their restaurant table overlooked. “The detail was incredible,” he said. “It was in that moment I realized she had a God-given talent.” Innate talent often seems hereditary, but maybe not in this case. “I had a short-lived career as an artist,” David Wilson confessed. “I tried to draw a horse once and it came out looking like a stick-dog. She definitely did not get her talent from me.” Although she may someday have to choose between her two passions, for now she is exploring both and enjoying the moments where they overlap. Last fall, she was able to work visually and musically in the Wingate production of “Hansel and Gretel.” “I painted the cottage and then I sang in it,” she said. “As the Sandman, I also got to blow glitter across the stage as I sang.” It seems she is drawn to any role that helps make her corner of the world more beautiful. “As long as people enjoy hearing me and seeing my artwork, I’ll keep going,” Wilson said. Then, after a thoughtful sip of coffee, she added, “And if they ever stop, I guess I’ll have to get a real job.” CV