Historic First Ward Leader Cleola Williams Honored With Photographic Mural

Style Magazine Newswire | 4/24/2020, 12:54 p.m.
A mural commissioned by Arts District Houston honoring longtime First Ward resident Cleola Williams is on display at Brock Park …
Longtime community advocate Cleola Williams pictured with mural artist Colby Deal

A mural commissioned by Arts District Houston honoring longtime First Ward resident Cleola Williams is on display at Brock Park (1701 Bingham Street) in . The project, named “The Lady of First Ward,” was conceived and created by Houston photographer, artist and muralist Colby Deal.

Cleola Williams grew up in First Ward, where she still resides in the home that her great-grandmother once lived in. Over the years, she has served as president of the First Ward Civic Association and board president of the Avenue Community Development Corporation, devoting decades to preserving the history and culture of the neighborhood. Williams received an award for her resident leadership from national preservation group NeighborWorks in 2004 and also led efforts for the renaming of Brock Park in Houston, previously named Randall P. Jones Park, in 2007. Brock was a former slave, skilled craftsman, and businessman who bought his freedom and became one of the first African American lawmakers for Houston and Alderman for First Ward.

It was these very accomplishments and passion for cultural preservation that attracted Colby Deal, a young Third Ward resident and mixed media artist, who wanted to honor Williams’ legacy through a partnership with the Arts District.

“There are two prominent similarities that come to mind when analyzing the life’s work of Cleola Williams and myself,” says Deal. “The first is that we are from historical

communities that are experiencing rapid gentrification — the First Ward and the Third Ward, respectively. The second is that of our efforts’ in preserving the fleeting

cultural characteristics and history of these historic communities.”

Deal was intentional about using his gifts as an artist to establish and support intergenerational relationships, and to make an effort toward the preservation and

remembrance of Houston’s historically-black communities. To prepare for the project, he met with Williams on several occasions to learn more about her feats in life and to photograph her in her First Ward home environment.

Arts District Houston announced last year a series of murals paying homage to two of the city’s original neighborhoods, the First and Sixth Wards. Deal’s new photographic mural is the most recent in this series.

Fresh Arts X Arts District Houston

Fresh Arts is headquartered in and is the managing partner of Arts District Houston (formerly Washington Avenue Arts District), an area that embodies Houston’s up-and-coming creative economy. Fresh Arts and its stakeholders amplify the district’s ability to serve artists and the greater community through artist-centered initiatives that help build capacity, audiences, and shared resources for the artists and creative businesses that compose the district. Fresh Arts and Arts District Houston are focused on shaping and growing Houston’s creative economy in a responsible way that ensures the district retains top artistic talent and energy while continually enhancing the livability of the surrounding neighborhoods.