Ormewood Park resident creates porch art to lift community’s spirits

Drew & Valerie Matthews stand on the porch of their Ormewood home with their John Lennon "Love" art display they put up to cheer up their neighbors. They started their first of six different art displays during the first week of the pandemic quarantine in early April. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Drew & Valerie Matthews stand on the porch of their Ormewood home with their John Lennon "Love" art display they put up to cheer up their neighbors. They started their first of six different art displays during the first week of the pandemic quarantine in early April. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

As Atlantans began the coronavirus hunker-down this spring, Drew Matthews knew he wanted to do something to boost his neighbors’ spirits.

But what?

Letting his artistic side take over, Matthews, 63, began creating porch art that combines some unforgettable faces, including Elvis and Mona Lisa, with some encouraging words, such as “Smile” and uplifting song lyrics, such as “Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

The art hit a welcome note with neighbors, one of whom wrote on the community’s virtual bulletin board: “I love your balcony and how you change it up. I walk by it every day, and it makes me smile.”

Messages of hope, kindness and appreciation have spread around the world during the COVID-19 crisis, including those unforgettable images of quarantined Italians and New Yorkers standing in their windows and on their balconies and cheering for the frontline healthcare workers.

In his neighborhood – intown’s Ormewood Park – Matthews saw for himself how a little diversion from the crisis could be a day-brightener.

One day, beginning to shelter in place as the state had ordered, Matthews and wife Valerie heard music playing outside their home and decided to check it out.

“To our surprise, there was a boat – yes, a real boat – being towed up the road,” said Matthews, a resident of Ormewood Park for more than a decade.

Playing aboard the boat was the Atlanta band The Mermaid Motor Lounge. On the boat was a sign with a sentiment befitting the times: “We’re all in this together.”

Matthews said seeing the boat and band “really lifted our spirits and was very emotional.”

“There were lots of mixed feelings, but mostly joy,” he said.

Matthews said he was motivated “to do something positive and festive.” He quickly went to work creating his porch art, part of which will be in an Atlanta History Center collection on the city’s pandemic experience.

An artist, Matthews finds most of the materials he needs for his brightly colored and eye-catching porches in his basement, where, through the years, he has amassed a collection of posters, picture frames, and other tools of the trade.

Elvis has taken center stage on the Matthews’ porch twice. First, the King appeared on the front of a beach towel, clad in bathing trunks and riding the waves. Later, a framed Elvis hung over the side of Matthews’ porch. Painted on the glass of the frame were red and yellow flowers and the words “Stay Cool.”

To pay tribute to healthcare workers, Matthews created a porch exhibit around the David Bowie lightning bolt from his “Aladdin Sane” album. He decorated the glass of the framed work with painted flowers and titled it “We can be Heroes for All of These Days,” a play on Bowie’s hit “Heroes.”

But his most popular, to date, has been a porch paying homage to Bob Marley, the late Jamaican singer and songwriter.

On the glass of the frame of a poster-sized picture of Marley are hand-painted flowers and the words “Don’t Worry About a Thing.” Below the picture, Matthews displayed a banner that finished the thought: “‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”

“It is still a fan favorite,” he said.

Matthews is giving his Mona Lisa “smile” porch art to the Atlanta History Center. The center is collecting digital photographs, audio and video recordings, journals and other items to help document life in Atlanta during the COVID-19 crisis, said Paul Crater, the center’s vice president of collections and research services.

Matthews’ porch creations – each of which includes hand-painted red and yellow flowers representative of the pandemic – come down in bad weather.

All but one has stuck to the pandemic theme. After George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, starting riots and protests across the country, the porch changed to John Lennon and the word “Imagine.”

“We hope all these projects have raised our neighbors’ spirits,” Matthews said.

He is already thinking ahead to a porch design to go with the release of a COVID-19 vaccine: The Rolling Stones with the headline: “It’s just one shot away.” The porch also will feature the Stones’ giant lips logo with the words “We can lick this,” he said.