Late Charleston artist honored through new ‘Charly Bench’ sculpture

ELK CITY, W.Va. — The City of Charleston and the community joined family and friends of a late local artist to unveil a sculpture in his honor.

Mayor Amy Goodwin along with the City’s Office of Public Art gathered the community together for the unveiling ceremony of the “Charly Bench” sculpture on Washington Street in Elk City Thursday afternoon.

It is inspired by and brings honor to the late Charleston resident Charles Jupiter Hamilton who was a contemporary artist known for his use of bold colors and figurative imagery within his paintings.

Charly Bench Marquette

His wife Rhoda Hamilton was just one of the many of his family and friends to pay a visit to the unveiling ceremony Thursday. She said Charles helped design the sculpture before he died, so it’s on point with the representation of his work.

“And they actually used his colors, they used Charly’s colors to paint it,” Rhoda Hamilton said. “Our friends Jeff Pierson and Rob Cleland helped paint it, and it brings out his quirky sense of humor and his artistic abilities.”

Office of Public Art Director Jeff Pierson said it was an honor to display Hamilton’s work through the sculpture, and he said he was grateful he could be a part of the design process.

“On a personal note, Charles was a good friend of mine, and to be able to share his work again, he’s still with us through his work, and to be able to share that, and have Rhoda, the love of his life here with us today is really, really special for us,” said Pierson.

Hamilton, originally from Princeton, New Jersey, made Charleston his permanent home in 1977 where he launched his influential art career. During that career Hamilton painted various murals depicting his whimsical style on the sides of buildings throughout the city, among doing other kinds of artwork such as carving wooden sculptures.

In 2013, he contributed one of his pieces to the West Virginia State Museum for the sesquicentennial. His work has reached as far as New York City, Washington D.C and Miami, Florida.

Hamilton died on September 21, 2021 as a result of Agent Orange exposure during his time in the Vietnam War.

Pierson said his work and who he was as a person impacted the entire community.

Wonder Mural

“Everybody has a piece of Charly Hamilton and he was a friend of all of us, he was always so kind to people, he loved people, he loved animals, we love that he can still be with us,” said Pierson.

Pierson worked in collaboration with Hamilton to design Charly Bench. They started with sketches first then developed a final concept rendering before Hamilton passed away.

The sculpture now rests adjacent to Hamilton’s “Wonder Mural,” which Pierson said is probably his most notable piece. He said both the mural and now the sculpture captures Hamilton’s work well.

“He was known for very vivid figures, so we thought it would be appropriate to create a piece that kind of came off of his mural and came to life,” Pierson said.

Rhoda Hamilton said he carried this whimsical work with him up until the very end.

“He had an active imagination and up until the day he died he was creating art,” she said.

The final piece was sculpted by Robert Haddy. Pierson along with Rob Cleland painted the sculpture.