New Columbia mural will honor beloved local musician who died of brain tumor

When you think of local Columbia music, you might think of Aaron Graves. And when you think of Aaron Graves, you might think of doughnuts.

So when you think of the new doughnut-featuring mural in downtown Columbia, you’ll always be reminded of Graves — the skateboarding, doughnut-loving record label founder and musician who died earlier this year of a brain tumor.

Graves was greatly loved and respected in Columbia’s arts community and beyond. He’ll be memorialized by a new mural to be painted on Main Street by South Carolina artists Lauren Andreu and Claude Gilbert, both friends of Graves.

“It recognizes an important contributor to our cultural community and the impact he made on so many people,” said Lee Snelgrove, director of One Columbia for Arts and Culture, which is helping to facilitate the project.

The idea for the mural was born at Graves’ memorial service this summer, Andreu said. Graves died June 5, 2019, at the age of 33, five years after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Graves was a Columbia native. He helped found Fork & Spoon Records and was the lead singer of local indie rock band Those Lavender Whales. He and his wife, Jessica, were known for hosting monthly potluck dinner parties that welcomed one and all; welcoming all was one of Graves’ most famous qualities.

“He just had open arms for people in the community,” said Andreu, a high school friend of Graves’.

Andreu is the artist behind the vibrantly colored mural on the wall of the Immaculate Consumption coffee shop on south Main Street in Columbia. She’s also painted a series of “iconic peacemakers” murals in the Lowcountry, where she now lives.

Graves “represents what it means to be a lovely, peacemaking person,” Andreu said. “I was really excited about doing something that embodied the spirit of Aaron and felt like the community would love and embrace it, too, because Aaron was such a beloved member of the community.”

The tribute mural will feature images that represent parts of Graves’ character and life. Expect there to be clouds (in honor of Graves’ famous “sky journal” photos), an homage to Those Lavender Whales, and, yes, a doughnut element, Andreu said.

“There’s so many things that are very iconically Aaron,” Andreu said. “We wanted this to be simple and beautiful ... something lighthearted, childlike and fun. Whimsical.”

A mock-up of the mural design, as well as its exact location, will be unveiled Friday night at a benefit concert to raise money for the mural. Andreu said she hopes to begin painting the mural around the end of October.

The benefit concert is from 7-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 at the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at the Curtiss Wright Hangar, 1402 Jim Hamilton Blvd. Proceeds from the concert will go toward the mural. A PayPal donation site also has been set up to support the mural costs.

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Sarah Ellis has reported on Columbia and Richland County since 2014. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism.