Picture a drab downtown with several boarded-up storefronts lining a lethargic Main Street. In the hollow central square, faded red-brick pavers radiate more blistering heat in the summer than any cool vibe. Now picture drawings that show what that city could look like.
Those illustrations actually exist, thanks to a collaboration that began two dozen years ago between Chris Stone and Lynn Craig. On the occasion of Stone’s Dec. 31 retirement as president and CEO of VisitGreenvilleSC, the “Greenville Journal,” he says, is the first publication to print several of Craig’s works.
Stone, after arriving in Greenville in 1996, was tasked with helping to make the city’s new master plan pop.
He recalls asking venerable Greenville architect Robin Prince about who could assist him.
Stone soon found himself with Craig outside an Italian restaurant in the barren Piazza Bergamo, where Craig sketched Stone’s visions on a paper table covering. Eight years later, that draft came to life as what today is called ONE City Plaza — almost exactly the way the new partners pictured it.
During a late-December Zoom session, Craig, who taught architecture for 34 years until 2015, traces the vivid action that fills his works.
“This is one of my favorite characters: He’s my waiter. There is his bowtie, a towel over the shoulder. Okay, now watch: What is this guy here doing? He’s talking to the waiter, ‘I need to look in the menu. What is the special of the day?’
“Are you going to get that out of a digital illustration? No.”
We’ve all seen architectural renderings, which can appear flat. Craig’s vignettes evoke impressionist pieces brimming with everyday details. A manhole cover. A bicycle rack. Park benches. A fountain with, as Craig puts it, “dancing water. People love to actually touch water.”
Both men say that particular illustration remains one of their favorites among the 30-some works Craig created with mixed media of oil, pastel, Prismacolor pencil and black brush pen, drawn on Bristol weight paper.
Craig shows another picture of a man looking up from the banks of the Reedy River. A woman waves at him from the bridge on Main Street. The background shows the West End Market, where Stone’s offices were at the time. Craig placed Stone in another picture.
All of the illustrations reside in Craig’s home. Asked whether they will ever appear in a gallery, Stone says it’s a great idea and Craig says he hasn’t thought of having a show, “but anything is possible.”
Well, that’s what the pictures show, too.
“Chris was always very creative and looking for ways to encourage fun ways to position and differentiate downtown Greenville,” says Nancy Whitworth, who retired as the city’s economic development manager a year ago this month. “As with so many of the successes of Greenville, the collaboration and the melding of many ideas always kept us moving forward and keeping everyone engaged.”
That was the whole idea, both men say: to paint “personality” into the city’s potential.
“When you can do an illustration, you definitely can share exactly what it is that you’re talking about,” Stone says, “and people can say, ‘OK, I totally see what you’re talking about here.”
Now all of us get to see what the two saw when the influencer and the inker formed their shared language.
Says Stone of Craig: “He couldn’t have been more enthusiastic over the years.” Likewise, Craig says he could easily sketch Stone’s “enthusiasm to get people involved.”
“Doing something together where you both enjoy one another and then enjoy what you’re trying to achieve for a place,” Craig says. “We’re both very much urbanists, and we want the urban environment to be rich and fulfilling.”
Stone’s Unturned — Projects Left Undone
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson
Chris Stone speaks with no small passion about “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the famed — or infamous — baseball player banned from the game in 1920 for his alleged role in fixing the Chicago White Sox’s 1919 World Series championship.
Jackson, who actually earned his sobriquet here, began his professional career as an outfielder for the Greenville Spinners in 1908. He started playing at age 13 for the team at Brandon Mill.
The day before Stone’s Dec. 31 retirement as president and CEO of VisitGreenvilleSC, he raised a flag at Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park. Now he hopes to see the idled ballpark in The Village of West Greenville turned into something of a Joe Jackson “Field of Dreams.”
“The flag was my way of reminding people that he was a World Series winner,” Stone says. “Best under-the-radar story, authentically Greenville: textile, blue-collar, poverty, uneducated.”
He calls Joseph Jefferson Jackson, who died in Greenville in 1951, one of baseball’s greatest players.
Jackson didn’t get to finish out his career, and Stone didn’t get to finish memorializing Jackson.
“I’ve wanted to redo the field,” he says, “but didn’t get that done … yet.”
Stone also envisions a park, a recreational haven beyond Travelers Rest that ties Greenville and the foothills together — “at some point in the future, to accentuate even more the assets that we have in our mountains that are real jewels to us.”