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Artist Draws Up the Big Picture
Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC / Sept. 15, 2005

by Rodger Mullen

Jefferson Waller's opus stretches over five years and 500 feet. "Everybody says you've got to look at the big picture," says Waller, unfolding his epic in the backyard of his mother's house off Bragg Boulevard. "This is the big picture." Since 2000, Waller, 46, has been traveling the country and drawing what he sees on 18x12 inch pieces of poser paper. His journey has taken him from the Florida Keys to Bangor, Maine; from the bright lights of Las Vegas to the dusty towns of Texas. Every stop on Waller's trek is fodder for this art. The panels are filled with renderings of Waller's experiences and encounters along the way. Folded accordion-style, the visual chronicle stands a couple of feet high. Unfolded, it measures more than 500 feet. Waller has collected one segment of his project into a book. It's called "Early American Hippie Art," and it details a trip by the artist from Fayetteville to Texas.

500 Feet...
Welcome to Louisiana.

Jefferson Waller looks the part. His thinning blond hair tumbles over his shoulders, and scraggly beard covers his chin. On a scorching hot day recently, he wears jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirt.

Art has been a part of Waller's life for as long as he can remember. His mother, Rose Waller, said her son has been drawing "since he was old enough to hold a pencil." Waller started his current odyssey in early 2000, after he got divorced. He traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., hoping to get hired there as an artist. That never panned out, but along the way Waller came up with the idea of traveling the country and drawing whatever he saw. He calls it his "coffee cup journal," because so many of the drawings were done while he sipped coffee in restaurants.

Coffee cups are a recurring motif in Waller's drawings. Waller's journey has taken him to author Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine; to Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West; to Graceland in Memphis. Waller said he's made some interesting friends along the way. In Texas, Waller got along well enough with singer Willie Nelson that he was invited backstage during the singer's recent tour with Bob Dylan. Waller survived by selling his artwork and working odd jobs. At one point, he was painting peace signs on rocks and selling them for $5.

The artist has occasionally interrupted his travels to return to Fayetteville, where his family lives. He was in town recently before hitting the road for Texas again. A Lone Star trip provided the focus for Waller's first collection of drawings, which was printed by Pinnacle Printing in Houston.

Waller went to Texas in April to see his 21-year-old son who lives there. While he was there, he looked up several old friends, including members of Nelson's entourage. For company on the trip, Waller took his dog, Buster.

Some of the calendar-size, black and white book is from the dog’s perspective. The style is cartoonish, reminiscent of the underground comics of the '60s and '70s. Waller peppers his drawings with bits of dialogue, snippets of conversation and thoughts that occur while sketching. His goal is to make the recently published book the first in a series of 12. "Every time I travel it grows because I try to do a page a day," Waller said. "It is a living comic strip, and it does tell a story."



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