George Wills is a Blacksburg-based artist whose work focuses on local landmarks such as Lane Stadium, downtown buildings and several restaurants.
A former student at Virginia Tech who grew up in Blacksburg, Wills briefly contributed his writing and drawing talents to the syndicated comic Shoe.
Wills took time to speak with the Collegiate Times on College Avenue, across the street from the Lyric.
COLLEGIATE TIMES: Tell me a bit about your artwork. A lot of what you do focuses on Blacksburg landmarks.
GEORGE WILLS: I recognized that these were landmark establishments that people had memories of and that therefore they would sell.
For practical reasons, I could draw a building, and I know I could sell prints to the scores of people who have memories of being there. And no one else was picking the downtown area.
The downtown area, particularly for students who are here for four years, it’s a unique way of carrying a memory away with them.
CT: You’ve done a lot of art based around Blacksburg, what makes Blacksburg stick out in your mind?
WILLS: Most importantly they’re home-grown landmarks. Like The Cellar, 40 years, no other Cellars, it’s unique to the corner there. Same with Gillie’s — started in 1970. If you came out for breakfast in downtown Blacksburg, that’s where you’d go.
If they were franchises, I wouldn’t do them, because they just somehow wouldn’t have the same effect. I can’t imagine. Like, I wouldn’t do Moe’s.
CT: So someone says, ‘The first date I went on with my future wife happened at the McDonald’s up the road here.”
WILLS: I’d probably decline.
WILLS: Well, because that would be a special order where I would just do it once. I’d just, I shouldn’t say I’d decline it. If I needed the money… (laughing).
CT: So is this about artistic principle?
WILLS: This is really about, well, that’s a little colliding there. I want it to be unique to the town, and I don’t see McDonald’s as unique to the town.
I don’t think anyone would ever say ‘I had my first meal at McDonald’s, and I’d like a picture of it.
CT: So you’re hoping that request does not come through?
WILLS: Yes. But that would be a challenge though. I would have to make the McDonald’s look unique.
CT: How do you see the relationship between the expansion of Virginia Tech and the expansion of the town of Blacksburg, is that something you see as hand-in-hand?
WILLS: Oh, definitely. Town businesses couldn’t survive without the university. It’d look a lot like Christiansburg.
Blacksburg is here because of the university. I can’t imagine it being any bigger than Christiansburg had it not been for the university.
CT: Does this get old for you? Coming back to these same structures over and over again. How do you keep it fresh?