photograph by Heather Simmons
Williamson's quest began seven years ago, after a visit to the City Museum in St. Louis. This huge, imaginative play space, housed in an old shoe factory and created entirely of recycled and found objects, features amazing places to climb and explore. It also artfully incorporates old salvaged relics from St. Louis’ past, hence the museum’s name. Amazed by what she saw, Williamson asked City Museum folks for a behind-the-scenes tour to explore the guts of the original building. “I loved the stories they incorporated into the architectural salvage. I loved that people's first impression is that it's a playground but then you realize it's a climbable structure made out of everyday objects,” she says.
Once she returned to her studio in Memphis, Williamson found herself asking why our city couldn't have something like this. “I saw the educational benefits and being an artist, I was inspired. So I came back and worked on a way to do it here.” Seven years later, Williamson has a business plan in place, a five-member board, and has recently been busy creating scale models of the types of climbing structures she envisions in the Junkyard. She plans to use these prototypes during presentations with prospective funders as her group looks for seed money. The prototypes will hopefully give business leaders an idea of what she envisions as this play space for children continues to take shape. Just where it will be located is still up for grabs, but Williamson hopes to find a building that's 85,000 to 100,000 square feet in size, something that would give them room to grow.
She's already got a following. Last year, word leaked out via Facebook about the Junkyard Art and Music summer camp Williamson was planning. “And it was sold out before the flyer even returned from the printer,” she says with laugh.
When she's not developing her sculptures, Williamson spends time at her studio off Broad Avenue, where she teaches painting and art classes to adults and children. She's a full-time artist and full-time mom to Isabella (8) and Lily (6). Her husband works in marketing for Hilton Hotels. Even her girls have weighed in with ideas for the project. Though her daughter Lily “is terrified of caves, she likes the challenge and wants to make sure the cool, decorative elements are there. My other daughter, Izzy, says she definitively wants tall slides.”
“I hope our museum will be a springboard of imagination,” says Williamson of the recyclables she envisions using to create the museum's structures. “Once people leave the museum, they'll think of ways they can infuse such imagination into their own lives.