This summer Libba Dillon bought a piece of her brother’s downtown coffee shop.
Fountain City Coffee has been around since 2003 and Jud Richardson has owned it since 2012.
“Coming in as an owner to help my brother, I sensed a lot of people had a misrepresentation of Fountain City,” Dillon said Tuesday morning in the shop located in the 1000 block of Broadway. “You judge it by people sitting outside smoking a cigarette and not really by the people who come into the coffee shop. There’s all kinds of people. There’s lawyers, there’s art students. It is a very diverse crowd as you can see by the faces on the wall.”
The faces on the wall tell a story. And Dillon hopes it’s one people take time to understand.
To tell the shop’s story and showcase its customer base in a unique way, Dillon sought the help of Columbus artist Garry Pound.
Pound has been a regular customer at Fountain City Coffee since it opened. He grew up with Dillon’s mother and has known Libba since she was 3, when he painted her portrait.
The original request was to put some Pound pieces on the wall. Out of that idea grew a project that has literally covered the walls of the popular downtown coffee shop with images of a clientele that is often described as eclectic.
This summer, Pound began taking photos of his “caffeine buddies” in anticipation of doing a few sketches.
“I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun and create a sense of ownership if we had folks that I have known all these years and I could do drawings of them and put them around the room?’” Pound said.
Then a funny thing happened between Pound’s Historic District studio and the downtown coffee shop.
“I got a little carried away,” Pound said. “I was thinking maybe 20 faces and we got 90-something in here.”
Dillon says she enlisted Pound because she felt the shop was being misrepresented.
“I heard people say, ‘Oh, we don’t go to that coffee shop because the homeless people sit outside,’” Dillon said. “Well, they buy coffee and they buy muffins. And we are not going to push anyone away. It’s cold outside and they want to come in and get a warm cup of coffee.”
Pound has included two of the regular homeless customers in his faces of Fountain City.
“They are part of the family,” Pound said. “And it feels like a community here.”
The portraits were revealed last week during a show at the shop, and they included recognizable figures like former Mayor Bob Poydasheff and folks like Tracy McClellan, a seamstress who sits near the front window on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
It’s her special place, she said Tuesday, her portrait on the wall behind her.
“I really like this because he captured people in their natural state,” McClellan said. “He kind of got their resting personality.”
When Pound asked if he could take her picture, McClellan said she did not know what to expect.
“He seems to have captured the essence of people,” she said.
“When I had this idea I wanted to break that reputation we had,” Dillon said. “We make really good coffee and that’s what we do. And a lot of people enjoy our coffee. ... But I look at it and get chills because there are all types of people on the walls. You come in here and they are all friendly to each other.”
(Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, mine is among the many portraits. Pound snapped my photo when I was sitting outside with friends back in October. I frequent both downtown coffee shops, but spend most of my time across the street at Iron Bank.)
There is some payoff for Pound. He is selling the framed portraits, starting at $125. More than half of them have already been sold.
“If I am lucky, I will pay for the framing and maybe make minimum wage for the last few months,” Pound said. “I need to get back to some paying gigs. But I would not have done it if I did not have a blast doing it. It’s been gratifying to see the response. ... I usually work for a little more than what I am charging for these.”
When Pound started the Fountain City faces project, he was in the middle of a commissioned work by the W.C. Bradley Company.
“Whenever I would get tired of doing that one, I would do a couple of drawings,” Pound said. “When that was finished a couple of weeks ago, I really poured it on and started doing a bunch of these. They usually take two to three hours on average.”
Pound did not back away from drawing other artists. Included in the collection are at least four fellow artists — Bo Bartlett, Betsy Eby, Mike Howard and Ralph Franks.
“I was doing pictures of people coming into the coffee shop, but I also started doing my artist buddies that I hang out with on Friday mornings,” Pound said. “Several of these ended up in the show and I was hoping it would bring them into the coffee shop, which it has.”
Pound said this undertaking has stretched him, and he’s thankful for that.
“I have never done anything quite to this extent,” Pound said. “I got carried away. Every time I look around, I say, ‘I would like to do their portrait.’ So, we may continue this. We haven’t decided yet.”
But one thing is sure. Dillon and Pound wanted to make a statement — and they did.