New mural hopes to reawaken village of Driver

Published 9:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Suffolk residents passing through the village of Driver may have noticed a colorful addition near Happy Hour Glass Works, which is nearing completion.

Muralist Christopher Kozak teamed with Happy Hour Glass Works Owner Shawna Buchsen and Barnyard Boards Coastal Owner Matt Weimer to help create a bright new mural in Driver, aiming to honor the village and reinvigorate new energy. During a recent interview with Suffolk News-Herald, Buchsen, Kozak and Weimer met to discuss the project’s origins, its overall process, and what the mural can bring to the community. Buchsen says that Kozak, alongside his wife and son, came by the shop, and while conversing and learning about his work as an art teacher and muralist, Buchsen was interested in working with him.

“And so I was like, ‘Well, I got a blank canvas for you!’” Buchsen said with a laugh. “ … I look and I think of it as a huge undertaking … he did a couple of real rough sketches, we went back and forth a couple times, I am like ‘You’re on the right track, this is what I like,’ and then it was just pretty easy peasy.”

Email newsletter signup

Kozak followed up, saying he has done a number of murals in areas such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach while noting that Driver was “as smooth sailing as it could possibly be.”

“Once we had the general composition, at that point, we just settled in on the style, kind of the little bit of art deco feel and those travel photos from the national parks, that kind of feel,” Kozak said. “Kind of slap that on top, let it harmonize and throw it on the wall.”

Kozak says that brainstorming on the mural took two to three weeks, and wiener’s research on Driver’s history was a key part of making the piece happen. Weimer talked about the process of compiling the information. 

“I feel like a lot of the stuff that I read is a lot of word-of-mouth and people who have just been in the area for so long. I don’t know if it’s the multiple fires in Suffolk’s past because Suffolk has lost a lot of history to fires,” Weimer said. “ … I feel like half what I read is articles and it’s talking to local people who grew up in the area like Greg Parker … and then it was just looking into the trains, each railway that eventually was taken over, probably by CSX, and now it’s just nonexistent. But, now we got a bike trail coming in that’s hopefully going to connect to downtown [Suffolk].”

Weimer says the area where the mural is located is known as “Downtown Driver” and hopes it will connect the two areas, with Downtown Suffolk being more industrial and Driver being more rural. Kozak talked about using the research to help make the magic happen.

“I knew we were going to do a train. We batted back and forth. ‘Do we want the train stationed itself, or do we want more landscape? I think at one time, I wanted to do a design focusing more on the produce. There was going to be a little farmers market thing upfront. So a couple of designs had popped up trying to bring about a visual history of Driver,” he said. “ … It’s just kind of the general process of doing any kind of mural where you just take all these disparate pieces and put them together just like any work of art, fused glass or otherwise, and you’re taking these random bits and bobs and they just start piecing together. Like pieces of a puzzle.”

Buchsen hopes that the mural will “put a smile on somebody’s face.”

“It’s a breath of fresh air for something that has just kind of been neglected, and Matt and I are working on revitalizing Driver as a whole,” she said. “With Amazon being built and that building boom, we’re going to get lost. So somebody’s got to keep us relevant …”

Kozak expressed that the mural and other projects can become a “focal point” similar to Smithfield.

“It can become this mainstay where even if buildings start going up and Amazon people start moving in, instead of getting swallowed up, it can become almost the de facto heart of Driver. It already kind of is, but we can slam it down and put your foot in the sand and say ‘This is where we are,’” he said. “ … Instead of it being swallowed by commercialism and the building, structures and all that, it can stand the testament and say ‘Hey you can build around us, like, come and visit,’ but almost become a meeting place. Almost become a place for people to congregate.”

Weimer likewise believes the mural will help draw attention.

“It’s going to bring the history back,” Weimer said. “That mural is going to bring so much attention. People are going to want to know more about everything that still stands in this area. I think it’s a good way to get the city’s attention and even everyone who lives in these neighborhoods around here, there going to be like ‘Oh finally that area is coming back to life!’”


Editor’s note: Updated article at 10:59 p.m., Thursday, June 20 to reflect correct spelling.