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American Artist

William Armstrong started out at 14 painting signs for butcher shops, in Newark. He went on to become one of the world's leading scenic artists, creating dozens of major movie sets. An accomplished artist, painter, sculptor and craftsman, Armstrong worked with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Woody Allen.

Among Armstrong’s ornate movie sets featured in Architectural Digest were Meet Joe Black and The Legend of Bagger Vance, the project that brought the painter to Savannah, which he and his wife Monique called home until his passing in 2020.



Armstrong typically worked from pen and ink drawings and pencil sketches, carefully observing the landscape and people around him.


“You have to be a magician in the film business,” he says. “I learned to create faux finishes, marble out of plywood, illusory tricks that could not be told from the real thing, and that adds a lot to your technical repertoire.”

Armstrong could achieve almost any result – in oils, watercolors, pen and ink, sculpture.


Since settling in Savannah, Armstrong found himself, like many area artists, fascinated by the ever-changing light and shadow. "I could tell I would enjoy painting here because of the wealth of weather changes you have," he says. "You have instant storms and beautiful sunrises and sunsets.” Armstrong enjoyed creating watercolors on location, in the plein-air tradition, painting a shell-pink and pale-lilac sky over the marsh at sunset or celebrating the view across the river at Bonaventure Cemetery.

Inspired by the watercolors of John Singer Sargent, Armstrong explained that he strived for a "looseness with the brush strokes" in his watercolors, which showcased palm trees with spiky fronds silhouetted against plush, diaphanous clouds.


Armstrong's best work was the product of an intense, almost superhuman, attention to his surroundings. "Most people think nothing changes," he says, "but things change all the time -- if you're paying attention." This keen focus on the world around him enabled the artist to capture nuances in the water and sky, unique to a particular season or time of day. Using rich oil paints he could intensify the colors of a Beaufort marsh, creating a rosy haze echoed visually in the sky and in the river. "It's amazing what people don't see, even when something is right in front of them," he says. "Through my painting I try to help people see the beauty in their own neighborhood and to learn to see the day-to-day changes in the world around us."

The remarkable works of William Armstrong will be showcased at Cafe Colibri, courtesy of his estate.

From vibrant landscapes to intimate portraits, his art speaks volumes about the human experience and the beauty found within it. We invite you to join us in celebrating the legacy of William Armstrong at Cafe Colibri, where his art will be on display for all to appreciate and admire.

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