Public Art Walking Tour

an exciting stroll through the Portsmouth Cultural Arts District

Enjoy a relaxing stroll through the Portsmouth Cultural Arts District and visit some of the amazing murals, sculptures, and more along the way.

This tour is approximately 1.25 miles long.

Suggested Parking:

County Street Garage 200 County Street (free parking on weekends). There is also 2 hour on street parking available throughout the downtown area.

Note to visitors before beginning:

Historic Squares Named after the English naval port of Portsmouth, England, Olde Towne Portsmouth is laid out in a series of squares. Many of the squares were labeled to designate the use for the property such as CHURCH, MARKET, or PRISON. With help from the writings of Portsmouth historians and an 1851 map, the Portsmouth Heritage Initiative has placed approximately 90 granite stone markers at intersections to commemorate each square’s historical significance. As you stroll the brick streets, you can enjoy discovering a little of Portsmouth’s past.

Begin at the toad in front of the Children’s Museum

1. I’ve Been Kissed – 221 High St.

In front of the Children’s Museum of Virginia, you will see a bronze sculpture of a toad entitled I’ve Been Kissed created by artist Pokey Park and installed by a local non-profit, Support Portsmouth Public Art in 2011. Notice this toad has human fingernails showing that it was human or is becoming human.  This is a favorite photo spot for the children visiting the museum. This toad also stars in his own children’s book available across the street at Little Shoppes on High. (Proceeds from all book sales go to Support Portsmouth Public Art.)

Walk toward the water in front of Legend Brewing Depot.

2. Painted Electrical Box – South side of High Street Landing

Portsmouth is for Kids is one of several electrical boxes painted by local artists.

Walk past Legend Brewing Depot.

3. Fresnel Lens

This First Order Fresnel Lens is from the Hog Island Lighthouse off the Eastern Shore. It is one of the largest and brightest of its kind, standing 10 feet high, weighing 2,500 pounds, with more than 250 prisms of optical glass and valued at nearly $1,000,000.  This design was originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Housed in a 16-foot wide pavilion, this lens is the only one displayed outside a museum setting.

Walk around High Street Basin.

4. Painted Electrical Box – North side of High Street Landing

This electrical box painted by Howard Batkin shows one of the original car 

ferries from Portsmouth to Norfolk.

Cross Water Street and turn around.

5. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Mural – 2 High St.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum has a mural on the side painted by Sam Welty that depicts the history of shipbuilding. The panels show a woodworker in the age of sail, a blacksmith in the Civil War era with the CSS Virginia in the background, the iconic hammerhead crane built in 1940, and the final 2 panels show male and female shipbuilders in the World War II era including a woman welding.

Walk back on High Street and cross Crawford.

6 . William Craford Statue – 200 High St.

This statue of Portsmouth’s founder, Colonel William Craford, was commissioned in 2006 by Towne Bank. Portsmouth sculptor, Sue Landerman created a likeness of Craford which faces the location of his old plantation house. (In later years his name was spelled Crawford.)  He was most likely born in Norfolk County since his parents and grandparents lived there.  In 1752 William Craford founded Portsmouth on 65 acres of his extensive property. He was appointed Sheriff for Norfolk County by the Royal Governor. He also served as the presiding justice of the Norfolk City Court, a Lt. Colonel of the county militia and as a member of the House of Burgesses for nearly 30 years. Col. Craford died in 1762, but his grave was never found. Three skeletons were found during construction of the Moody Law Firm building across the street which would have been his property. 

Continue along High Street.

7. Sculptured Brick Athletes– 230 High St.

These brick relief sculptures  were created by Sue Landerman for the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

Continue on High Street and stop in front of the former Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and look across the street.

8. Playful Children – 301 High St.

Look up above Fleming’s Gym  to see one of the wonderful murals commissioned by the local non-profit, Support Portsmouth Public Art and Portsmouth Economic Development. This mural entitled Playful Children was imagined by SPPA and painted by local artist Sam Welty. It is meant to be seen from the second floor of the Children’s Museum of Virginia.

Continue along High Street.

9.Visual Arts Center – 340 High St.

The Visual Arts Center Gallery in Tidewater Community College has over 2,000 square feet of formal exhibition space that features artwork by regional, national, and international artists as well as TCC students and faculty. The gallery is open from 9 am – 8 pm with no entrance fee.

Cross Court Street if the gate to PACC is unlocked, walk through the courtyard and come out at the Gallery Shop.

On the corner of High & Court near the fence, you will see a cannon, buried muzzle down. Local historians  say this is a way to honor someone who had distinguished military service.  An artillery historian from Maryland said the cannon dates to around 1795 and is American made. That indicates that it could have been used in the War of 1812. Local historians believe it was placed there to honor a war hero, Capt. Arthur Emmerson III. He was a hero of the Battle of Craney Island, a critical battle in the War of 1812. Emmerson’s home once sat across the street on the site of the Commodore Theater.

10. Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit at the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center – 420 High St.

The Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit runs from from April  – October. This multi-media exhibition featured in the historic courtyard offers an interesting variety of sculptures that visitors can vote on to determine the People’s Choice Award winner. Votes must be cast by August 1st.

Look up & to the left of the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center Gallery Shop.

11. Ricky Price Mural – 420 High St.

This mural honors beloved local historian and actor Ricky Price portraying his favorite Portsmouth figure, Col. William Crawford. Price passed away in 2018. The mural is located by the Courtyard of the Art Annex at the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center overlooking the location of the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market where Price was a regular.

It was painted by Linwood Pettaway and Leon Johnson in 2019. It was made possible by Support Portsmouth Public Art and contributions from Ricky’s many Portsmouth fans.

Continue along High Street.

12. Colony Theater Tribute to Portsmouth Music – 430 High St.

The former Colony Theater, built in the 1930s, was the first to show moving pictures in color in Portsmouth. These murals were painted by artist Mandy Smith and depict famous musicians who are Portsmouth natives. Included are Tommy Newsome from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; Ruth Brown, known as the “Queen of Rhythm & Blues”; and Bill Deal and his band, the Rhondels who were famous for beach music. These murals were sponsored by Support Portsmouth Public Art with a matching grant from the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission.

Cross Dinwiddie Street then turn right and walk to the small parking lot.

13.  Speckled Trout Mural– 464 Dinwiddie St.

On the side of Bartley Tuthill’s law office, you can’t miss the mural Speckled Trout painted by Sam Welty.  This mural was  commissioned by Support Portsmouth Public Art with a matching grant from the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission.  This trout is a native fish revered by local fishermen. It is a member of the drum family that thrives in the warm water and numerous shallow grassy flats found in the Elizabeth River.

Return to High Street and turn right.  Walk to the far side of Baron’s Pub.

14. Baron’s Pub Mural – 500 High St.

The Baron’s Pub Mural was painted by local artist and member of the Coast Guard, Adam Stanton in 2018. This is a wonderful example of urban art. Baron’s is one of the longstanding locals’ favorite hangouts. It is named for Commodore Barron, a famous naval officer of Portsmouth whom you will notice at several future locations.

Continue on High Street and cross to the left at Green Street.

15. Battle of Craney Island Mural – 715 High St.

After 911, local artist Sam Welty decided to create a series of huge “Great America”outdoor wall murals to celebrate the diversity of the United States and honor the military personnel who sacrifice so much for our freedom. The Battle of Craney Island Mural was commissioned by the Portsmouth Heritage Initiative and is Sam Welty’s Great America IV.  The mural includes Captain Arthur Emmerson who led the attack at Hoffler Creek to defend our country. He is described as a hero of the militia artillery company for staving off British land and naval forces and preventing them from taking control of the Portsmouth shipyard. His company sunk the British forces’ lead boat. The Americans had scored a defensive victory in the face of a much larger force. Norfolk and the Gosport Navy Yard were spared from attack. Under Capt. Emmerson’s command, there were no American casualties. This battle was one of the few land battles won by the Americans in the War of 1812.

Turn around and return back on High Street. You will pass Trinity Church on your right.

Trinity Churchyard was a public cemetery from 1762 until 1835. In the graveyard, you will see the sarcophagus of Commodore Barron with the graves of his grandchildren who died in infancy beside it. Several Revolutionary War soldiers are also buried here including Bernard Magneon, the aide to General Lafayette.

Turn right on Court Street  Continue on Court Street until you come to the parking lot beside Guad’s Mexican Restaurant.

16. Commodore James Barron Mural – 606 Court St.

This is a mural honoring Commodore James Barron. You will remember his name from the Commodore Theater and Baron’s Pub. Barron commanded a number of famous ships including the USS Essex, the USS President, and the USS Chesapeake. Painted by Sam Welty in 2015, this mural is another of his “Great America” series.  It was commissioned by Support Portsmouth Public Art with a matching grant from the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission.

Cross Court Street.

17. Portsmouth Public Library First Amendment Sculpture – 601 Court St.

On the steps of the Portsmouth Public Library you will see the First Amendment Sculpture. This unusual sculpture celebrates our most valuable individual rights: religion, speech, press, and assembly. Using the desk of our beloved journalist Ida Kay Jordan as a model, Sue Landerman, who designed and built the sculpture, positioned the typewriter as a symbol of freedom of the press. This sculpture was commissioned by Support Portsmouth Public Art with a matching grant from the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission.

At the corner at King St. notice another cannon planted in the sidewalk. Local historians have puzzled over this for years. This cannon appears to be British dating back to the first half of the 1700’s.

Turn right on King Street and walk back to Middle Street Mall.

18. “R. Hero” – Middle Street Mall

Olde Towne is fortunate to have one of the  “R. Hero” sculptures created by artists Karen & Tony Barone to honor and recognize our valiant firefighters and first responders who save, rescue, and protect humans and animals. There are now 33 “R. Hero” sculptures around the country as well as one in San Salvador and Israel.

19. Whimsical Streetscape  Back of Children’s Museum building

The Whimsical Streetscape mural that was painted by local artist, Sam Welty, was  designed to reflect the spheres and cubes in the pedestrian plaza area.

20. LOVE Sculpture – 10 Crawford Pkwy.

If you have time and energy, the LOVE Sculpture is about 6 blocks away on the waterfront. Overlooking Craford Bay, Portsmouth’s LOVE Sculpture is among the nearly 100 LOVE sculptures throughout Virginia. The design was created by Orlen Stauffer and fabricated by Irving Wolff. This art piece was made possible by Support Portsmouth Public Art through private donations and fundraisers, a matching grant from the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation. Don’t miss this great photo opportunity.

For more information please visit Portsmouth Cultural Arts District