Fulton Leroy Washington returned to Lompoc — his home for much of the past decade — this past weekend, though this trip was under much different circumstances than his previous stay.
Washington, who had been incarcerated at the Lompoc federal correctional institution before getting released this year, was the guest of honor at an artist reception Sunday afternoon at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building.
The event, which was coordinated by the office of 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, was held to recognize Washington for three military-themed murals he created in prison that now are on display in the refurbished facility.
Sunday was the first time Washington had seen the murals since they left the prison complex.
“To come here and see them hung up is really amazing,” he said shortly after the reception, which was attended by about 70 people. “It’s really great, just amazing.”
The reception, held in the building’s dining hall, included comments from Washington, as well as local elected officials, who presented him with certificates of recognition, and a representative from the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building Foundation. Maiza Hixson, the chief curator of the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture, served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“Mr. Washington has created a visual legacy that his children, grandchildren and our community can be proud of,” Hixson said. “Washington demonstrates the idea that no matter the creative medium, art can be the catalyst for personal transformation and a true inspiration to others.”
Washington, who had been serving a life sentence with no chance of parole following a drug-related conviction, focused his comments on the importance of time.
“Time is precious -- that’s all we have,” said Washington, who had been incarcerated since 1997 before being granted executive clemency by President Barack Obama in May. “It’s a shame that I spent 20 years of my time sitting in a little cubicle, but I tried not to waste the time. I turned all that time into producing art.”
One of Washington’s first public art pieces was a “Home Soil” mural he created that was displayed in 2011 at a Lompoc intersection. Then last year, three of his paintings -- depicting the 1923 Honda Point tragedy, the American flag raising at Iwo Jima during World War II and renderings of the country’s military seals -- were put up at the Veterans Memorial Building.
“Thank you, Mr. Washington,” Adam said in his opening comments. “We truly admire your talents and are fortunate to be the recipients of your generous gifts. My hope (is) that you enjoy seeing them displayed in a beautiful building with a community that truly appreciates art as much as Lompoc.”
Washington, who lives in Los Angeles, thanked everyone who attended the ceremony, including several friends and family members whom he said stuck by him throughout his incarceration, and said his goal remains to use his artistic talents to be a contributing member of society.
He has expressed a desire to live and work in Santa Barbara County but, first, must find someone willing to rent him a suitable workspace.
“We’re gonna move forward,” he told the audience. “It’s not about making complaints about what happened in the past. Today is the first day of (the rest of) all our lives. We have to figure out what we’re going to do from here on out and how can we work together.
“If there’s anything that anybody in this room, or anybody in the public needs that I have, come (see me),” he added. “I’m very open and generous with everything that I have — my talent, my skills, my teaching ability and whatever else that I have. I share that, and I always have.”
Former Lompoc Mayor Joyce Howerton, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the office of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, noted that the paintings added to the historic building’s beauty and said that she’s heard positive feedback from visitors to the building.
She wrapped up her comments by wishing Washington luck in his future endeavors.
“It just shows in America, a second chance works,” she said before turning her attention directly to Washington. “You gave us so much. Hopefully we as a community can help give back to you.”