“I grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi. We lived next to the high school and I found a tennis racket in the garbage can and found a ball at the school. I started hitting tennis balls against the wall. I am the number three tennis player in the state in my group. I served in the Navy and when I got out, I didn’t want to come home broke. I asked a guy in Jacksonville if I could learn the stucco trade from him and I would work for free while I was learning. He made me start with landscaping before I got on the ladder because I needed to know both. I have been on a ladder ever since, almost 20 years. Tennis and stucco are the same strokes.
My ankles collapsed while I was in the Navy. It is like having elbows on the ground and very painful. I am a disabled vet and couldn’t get the help I needed to fix them. I was supposed to elevate each foot for six months. I couldn’t be out of work for a year. I wear $300 boots good tennis shoes that help me work and play tennis. I am still not sure how I play tennis on these ankles, but it works and I don’t want to question it too much.
I am helping preserve this building. They tore down the buildings on both sides and that left new cracks. The owner just wants to keep her building and be a part of Main Street. I think this building was once a club because there is a stage in the back. This is a spiritual building and needs to be restored right. You feel the people who built it. I see how they worked and respect their craftsmanship. I understand the conditions they built these buildings in.
Wire is the key. I can build anything with metal lath. All buildings move with bricks stacked on top of each other. They used lime mortar between the bricks, which is basically dirt. It has to breathe. You can’t use regular cement on them. We are using old plaster. We put the wire over the brick to keep the stucco from pulling away. After I am done, the walls are perfect for murals and I see most of them as a canvass for art. I am the nephew of William Tolliver who was a famous artist from Vicksburg.
I don’t have a son, so I help out my employees. I can’t do this by myself, it is a team. I want to work on town projects where I train guys in town this trade. They don’t need experience for me to teach them the right way. A white man took me in and taught me everything the right way. Same with the military. Until you learn how to fold your socks, underwear and shirts, you aren’t going anywhere and don’t deserve to hold a gun. You have to master the basics first.
I like doing small projects that make people so happy they don’t even know how to pay. I walk off and say ‘Lord, can I make my tithe on this happiness’?”