A Farewell to Walt Fieldsa

Walt Fieldsa, Knoxville Music Mural Restoration, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, June 2017
Walt Fieldsa, Knoxville Music Mural Restoration, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, June 2017

One of the realities of writing about a city for fourteen years is that you get to meet a lot of people and come to see them as important parts of the city. They may never become mayor or get elected to city council and they aren’t necessarily rich enough to have their name splashed about, but they make their contribution, sometimes over many years, that help make the city just a bit better. The accompanying reality is that you experience some of them leaving this life and moving on to whatever is next.

I’ve written about a number of these people before — none of them famous, some known better than others, and some hardly known at all. I feel they need to be remembered when the history of this era is written. Sadly, I’ll feature two this week, one today and another on Friday, who each added their gifts and heart to the city. Today we remember Walt Fieldsa who died two weeks ago, yesterday.

To be clear, I did not know Walt well. I met him and enjoyed one fabulous conversation with him that resulted in an article seven years ago, now. But he had been a fixture on the Knoxville scene for decades before that, going back to the early days in Fort Sanders when so many artists and other creatives made it their home for a time. And he left an impression on me during our one significant conversation.

Walt Fieldsa, Knoxville Music Mural Restoration, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, June 2017
Walt Fieldsa, Knoxville Music Mural Restoration, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, June 2017

He’s likely caught your notice, too. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the train mural behind Lonesome Dove. Walt painted it in 2001 and, with funding from Keep Knoxville Beautiful and others, he restored it in April 2017. He also played a large part in the design and execution of the mural outside Visit Knoxville.

But it was another mural that prompted our meeting: The Knoxville Music History Mural, just across the current entrance into the rear of the Stockyard Lofts from Barley’s. Walt painted it in 2000, commemorating musicians with a Knoxville connection, many of whom are not noted anywhere else in the city. In 2016, an uproar was created when the mural was painted over.

Walt told me he was surprised by the intensity of the reaction and was happy people cared. He said, “Knoxville will take care of Knoxville,” reflecting a faith in people and the city that is hard for some of us to maintain. He met with the building owner, gaining an agreement to allow Walt to restore the mural and for the owner to pay him for his work.

Walt Fieldsa, Knoxville Music Mural Restoration, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, June 2017

He even made the new version (after he removed layers of paint that had been added over the old version) better by correcting a few mistakes he noticed in the first version. After using a team the first time around, he did this work by himself, wanting to get it right. With the materials that he used, he said the mural should last for forty years and then be able to to be easily re-coated.

He was proud of his work, but told me he was anxious to get back to his country home, which he built himself. He was working on a project to prevent erosion of a riverbank by filling old tires with rock. He said canoeists on the river had pulled in to tell him his work was beautiful and that, clearly, made him proud. He’d also returned to painting more with a palette knife. He also mentioned the mural outside what used to be Roy’s Records in Maryville. That was his, as well.

He left me a bit more hopeful about the world with people like him around to make it better. I ended:

He’ll leave having accomplished what he set out to do: The mural will be restored, but more importantly, a contentious moment in our recent history will be replaced with a harmonious new chapter in a seventeen-year journey of remembering both the musical artists of our past and the artists, such as Walt, who make the city a better place today.

Train Mural (Walt Fieldsa, 2001), Central Street in the Old City, Knoxville, October 2016
Knoxville Music History Mural, October 2010

A memorial service will be held soon, and I’ll try to pass word along here. I’ll end with the few simple facts of a life well-lived which were included in the obituary:

Walt Fieldsa, age 73, of Sevierville, a local artist, passed away Monday, June 17, 2024, from injuries sustained from a fall. From a young age he had a passion for art, painting pictures in his basement and he continued painting throughout his life.

Walt was an advocate for public art and painted murals locally for which he won a Knoxville Orchard Award and was a member of the Knoxville art Community. He was a founding member of the Historic Chroma Art Collective. Walt encouraged other artists to pursue their dreams. He loved music and was a part of the local music scene as well. As a young child he developed a love for travel when his parents moved to Ethiopia. His love of nature led him to create a unique homestead on the French Broad River which was enjoyed by many friends and family. He graduated from Boston University with a BA in Art History as well as gaining his pilot’s license . . . Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Karen Fieldsa; sister, Karen Seidler of Florida; brother, Wayne and wife, Robin Fieldsa of Florida; several nieces and nephews.

He made Knoxville a better place and his legacy continues.

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