Really Cheap Geeks Are Brightening Up the Parkersburg, One Wall at a Time
Even before the outer walls were covered in bright, colorful murals, the unmistakable building at the confluence of Emerson, Dudley, and West Virginia Avenues in Parkersburg was something of a local landmark. With its curving façade and glass block windows, you truly can’t miss it.
“A lot of people drive by,” said Edward Escandon, owner of Really Cheap Geeks and the building in question. “When I was a kid it was kind of an iconic building.”
It was, in part, this iconic status that would eventually motivate Escandon to transform his store into one of the Mid-Ohio Valley’s newest, most colorful and ever-evolving pieces of public art. Born and raised in Parkersburg, Escandon left the area after college. Bouncing around the country and spending time on both coasts, he ultimately found himself living in South America when he felt the pull to return to West Virginia 12 years ago.
“I never thought I would come back,” he said. “But like a lot of people in my generation, my parents are still here, and getting older…and then I just stayed. But now I love it again.”
It was after returning to the MOV that Escandon opened Really Cheap Geeks, originally working out of his basement repairing computers and smart phones. Ten years ago, he moved into the space on Emerson. At that time, much of the space was an antique store owned by local attorney and auctioneer Rock Wilson; Escandon occupied just one small table. Customers could browse the shelves full of vintage treasures while waiting for their iPhone glass to be replaced.
I realized there was no better way to have the place stand out than to cover the walls with art.
Eventually, the business expanded and with it, Escandon’s ideas of what could be done with his very unique building. “I realized there was no better way to have the place stand out than to cover the walls with art,” he said.
In the time since he began the mural project, Escandon has worked with several local artists. He’s already swapped out some of the art on his building and intends to keep doing so every few years in the future, hopefully attracting new and different styles of art. Though the mural work up to this point has been completed mostly by professionals, Escandon has also considered expanding to street or graffiti artists in the future.
One artist featured prominently at Really Cheap Geeks is painter Daniel Debellis. Originally from Salisbury, North Carolina, Debellis had a long and troubled journey to the Mid-Ohio Valley. As a child, Debellis spent many years in the foster care system. His young adulthood was spent in and out of prison; it was one of these stents behind bars when the self taught artist took up drawing. Ultimately, Debellis wound up in California, homeless and on the street. With supplies he’d found in a dumpster, he began decorating the signs he put out asking for help.
“I thought, ‘maybe if I make my signs look cool I’ll get better feedback,’ Debellis said. “It kind of made people respond to me differently.”
Debellis’ art would ultimately prove life-changing as folks began offering to purchase his signs and, eventually, other pieces. “My 3rd painting I sold was for $800 on a piece of cardboard, and this CEO framed it and hung it in his office,” he said. “[The experience] gave me a reason to live. I just grew this hunger to paint.”
Daniel paints straight from the heart – he’s an incredibly open and honest person and that comes through in his art.
After reconnecting with his birth mother, Debellis came to West Virginia around three years ago to help her with recovery after a surgery. It was here that Debellis made the decision to dedicate himself full time to his art. Debellis had set up shop painting on a grassy patch outside a local Wal-Mart when he attracted the attention of Edward Escandon.
“Daniel paints straight from the heart – he’s an incredibly open and honest person and that comes through in his art…he’s a fighter, and he’s a joyful person,” Escandon said.
Escandon approached Debellis about possibly working on a mural but Debellis, having been disappointed in the past by other opportunities that never came to fruition, was hesitant. Escandon was eventually able to lure him to the shop after purchasing one of his paintings, and again pitched the idea of a mural. Though he’d never taken on a project of such scale, Debellis went for it. “I had no clue what I was going to do. I was nervous. But I got in there, I turned my music on, and I let my mind go…I always go in with a blank mind and whatever comes out, comes out. It’s my way of expressing myself.”
Two additional sides of Escandon’s shop are currently occupied by artist and Parkersburg High School teacher Emma Romanowski. Born and raised in the area, Romanowski attended PHS herself, joking with her art teacher Steven Morningstar (a distinguished local artist himself) that he couldn’t retire until she came back to take his job. Six years ago, after studying graphic design and education at West Liberty University, she did just that.
Her style is very illustrative. I love the way that her figures have individual life.
Romanowski is not new to large scale projects, having previously worked on both a “selfie station” in downtown Parkersburg and 14 total murals at Boxer’s Bed & Biscuits in Belpre. She then approached Escandon with samples of her work and ideas of what she could bring to his building. “Emma is so professional,” Escandon said. “Her style is very illustrative. I love the way that her figures have individual life.”
In stark contrast to Debellis’ free-wheeling style, Romanowski took a more analytical approach. “With murals I really like to sketch in a sketchbook, then color it in photoshop, get feedback, do corrections digitally, and then project it on the wall,” she said. Romanowski worked largely at night, getting help from some of her PHS students and fellow teacher Randi Wilson. “I actually had to have a couple of police block off the road,” she said, laughing.
Romanowski and Escandon share a passion for expanding public art in the Mid-Ohio Valley, one that goes beyond the walls of Really Cheap Geeks. Escandon is the driving force behind plans to paint the Parkersburg flood wall. He’s also been in contact with other businesses near his about possibly expanding the mural project down the street. “We want to carpet this city in murals,” he said.
For her part, Romanowski is hoping to start a mural club with her PHS art students. She’s also in the planning stages of a project involving the parking meters in downtown Parkersburg, and potentially the steps leading to Quincy Hill park.
“It’s so nice to come back to the area I grew up and see art just…blooming,” she said. “It reinforces my decision to stay here and try to make things better.”
Check out Really Cheap Geeks at: Really Cheap Geeks
See more of Daniel Debellis’ work at: Daniel Debellis Fine Art