Canvas Stretches Worldwide: Local artist commissioned to paint murals for hotel

By William Smith (
The Hawkeye

When Burlington artist David Garrison visited Great Falls National Park in Virginia two years ago, he captured the beauty of the flowing rapids through more than 60 photographs.

Next week, Garrison will be delivering a 5-foot-by-10-foot oil painting mural of the rapids to the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites in Rockwille, Mass., right outside Washington, D.C. He was more than a little surprised to land a commission painting a scene he had photographed two years earlier.

“It was a big coincidence,” he said.

The dual brand, two-tower hotel has been under construction for more than a year and will open its doors late next month.

“It’s a new concept they are developing, which I’m proud to be a part of,” Garrison said.

Garrison, who is a member of the Pastel Society of America, is one of the few people in America who can honestly claim to make a living from his art. He sells between 40 and 50 paintings a year, including large murals that mostly end up on the East Coast.

After professionally selling paintings for 20 years. Garrison has murals in hotels, museums and private homes around the U/S. and France. Some of his work also is visible around town including a mural at the Iowa Welcome Center in Burlington.

“I size and prime my own canvas, and this one happens to be on wood. Other times, I put it (the mural) on aluminum, he said.

A pastel artist at heart, Garrison spends the time he isn’t painting for work painting for fun. His studio is filled with impressionistic pieces he did just for himself, including a portrait of his wife and fellow artist, Cecile Houel. He met Houel while teaching in France, and the couple spend four months of the year there.

“I got to painting over there and discovered what (Claude) Monet loved about France. I’m impressionistic like he was, and that was fantastic living,” Garrison said.

As much as Garrison loves painting, he treats a commissioned mural like a full-time job—with overtime. Constructing and painting the mural took about four months, which included a drafting process where Garrison created 10 rough sketches to get the scene exactly right.

Once a rough draft was approved, Garrison worked 10-hour days, six or seven days a week, until the mural was completed about two months later.

“I usually do them (murals) larger.. The largest mural I’ve ever done is 28 feet by 28 feet. That one in Baltimore,” Garrison said.

The waterfall mural is only the first of two pieces the hotel commissioned from Garrison. He’s working on a smaller 4-foot by 7-foot acrylic mural of Washington, D.C. it stands proudly among stacks of his paintings next to his work table, which is covered in mounds of dry oil paint distinctly organized by color.

“This is a collection of paintings that will go in an exhibit in Normandy, France,” he said.

Garrison knew he wanted to be a painter since he was a small child, and likes to joke that he flunked first and second grade because he refused to concentrate on other subjects besides art.

“I just wanted to draw all the time,” he said with a laugh.

Garrison is a graduate of Iowa Wesleyan College and the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He also is a member of the National Society of Mural Painters and has been listed in the Who’s Who in American Art since 1986.

Those who want to see the mural con do so at an open house viewing from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Garrison’s studio at 831 S. Garfield Street.

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