Willie Crockett mural bedazzles Onancock

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EASTERN SHORE POST/CLARA VAUGHN Muralist Seth Lubaton stands in front of an unfinished replica of late artist Willie Crockett’s painting on the upper story of 39 Market St., Crockett’s former studio, on Monday, May 8.

BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

A tribute to late artist and Tangier native Willie Crockett is on display outside his former studio in Onancock.

The larger-than-life mural of Crockett’s painting matches the celebrated artist and storyteller’s personality.

“Everybody loved Willie,” said Onancock Mayor Fletcher Fosque from the roof of Bizzotto’s Gallery Caffe, the staging area for work on the project, Monday.

“This is Willie’s town now,” muralist Seth Lubaton said.

He began work on the roughly 12-by-24-foot seascape last week and said it pays homage to a celebrated Eastern Shore character.

Crockett passed away in 2021 and was famed for his artistic talent, Tangier accent, and natural storytelling abilities.

The mural is one of three planned for downtown Onancock, thanks to a project by Onancock Main Street, a nonprofit organization that works with the town to “ensure the continued vibrancy and preservation of historic downtown Onancock,” according to its website.

OMS is a Main Street America-Accredited program and a member of Virginia Main Street.

“We learned through Main Street … that numerous small towns had done this and found that it helped increase their traffic — that people would come off the highway if there were numerous murals to see,” said OMS Mural Committee Chair and Board of Directors member Cindy Holdren.

“That was our goal: to help the historic part of Onancock and the businesses become more vibrant and active,” she said.

The mural concept took root several years ago and is funded by grants OMS pursued through Virginia Main Street, a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development program, she said.

OMS selected Lubaton from among 14 applicants for its first mural on the rear wall of 9 North St., which shows a bright array of flowers, butterflies, and bees and is visible from the King Street parking lot.

The Virginia Beach artist had already designed and painted over 40 murals when he came to Onancock.

Lubaton’s second project in town is the replica of the Crockett painting on the upper story of 39 Market St., which was the artist’s studio for over 20 years.

“He was just a prolific artist and painted so much,” said Lubaton, who studied Crockett’s works that use both watercolor and oil paint to capture the movement of water featured in many of his paintings.

Crockett’s family helped choose the painting for the mural, said Holdren, who noted his son, Craig Crockett, still owns the property.

“All of the business owners… have been great,” she said of those who have provided space for the murals.

In addition to the Crockett family, Mary and Elon Benaknin, who own the Blarney Stone Pub, provided space for the mural at 9 North St.

The North Street Playhouse will provide space for a third mural centered on the performing arts at its 34 Market St. location. Artist Curtis Goldstein, of Ohio, will begin work on that mural later this summer, Holdren said.

OMS has applied for additional grants that might lead to future murals downtown, she added.

Crockett’s wife, Iris Morgan Crockett, said her husband began painting after they met an artist on the way to Washington state, where Crockett moved to be a preacher.

“He said, ‘Willie, come over to our apartment. Let me show you what I’m doing with watercolor,” she said. “The next day he went and he got everything he needed to paint, and never stopped.”

Willie Crockett soon met a professional artist from Southern California, who trained him, leading to his famous style, she said.

She called the tribute to her late husband’s work “beautiful.”

“When I came in (to the studio) and looked up, all I could do was cry,” she said. “It’s so beautiful.”

Moments like that make his job rewarding, Lubaton said.

“It’s just been an awesome experience,” he said.

Visit www.experienceonancock.com to learn more about Onancock Main Street and its initiatives in downtown Onancock.

Visit www.lubatonmurals.com to learn more about Lubaton’s work.

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