Walley Two Hawks isn’t the sort of guy you’d expect to find painting a mural. The 59-year-old Cleveland resident is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other.
The disability ended his career as a journeyman carpenter four years ago, about the same time he began to hone his artistic talents. Today, his mural of Cleveland’s skyline stretches above the pinsetter at Brown’s Grill and Lanes, a bowling alley on the city’s near West Side. It turned out creativity was more important to the project than a keen eye.
“[The owners] wanted to see the whole city, and they also wanted to see both stadiums,” Two Hawks explains. “But there’s no place in Cleveland where you can see both stadiums at the same time.”
He took photos of the city from various viewpoints, then cut out and combined landmarks to compose “an exaggerated perspective” in pinks, beiges, whites and greens. It’s 20 feet long by 3 feet high.
Two Hawks received no payment for the work, which he estimates was completed in 13 days over three weeks.
“I did it as a learning experience,” he says. “Everybody liked it — I guess that’s all that counts. I’ve got my pension, so I really don’t have to make money.”
Two Hawks’ first works were the cartoons he drew growing up in Cleveland’s southwest suburbs, a hobby he continued through a three-year stint in the Army. But the first of two failed marriages, along with the first of five children, ended any thoughts of pursuing a career in art.
It wasn’t until 2004, when he had a dream about the biblical Parable of Wasted Talents, that he began drawing again. Glaucoma robbed him of vision in his left eye shortly thereafter, a problem compounded by the development of a cataract in the right.
“Nobody really knows how much longer they’re going to live,” he says. “I wasn’t going to waste any more time.”
Two Hawks retired and began volunteering as an aide to teachers and resident artists at various local arts organizations. “The way I learn is just by helping people,” he says. He eventually started working in pastels, acrylics, clay, metals and mixed media. In mid-2007, he overheard fellow artists talking about painting a mural at Brown’s Grill and Lanes while volunteering at Art House, a nonprofit art center that offers classes for adults and children.
But the mural never materialized, so last fall he struck up a conversation with the bowling alley’s owners, Vickie and Ralph Thompson, while waiting for a bus. The job was his for the asking.
One of the most interesting things about Two Hawks’ art is the name on it. Last year he changed his surname from Knable to acknowledge his Native American heritage. (His maternal grandfather was half-Cherokee.)
The moniker was inspired by a childhood dream in which he saw two redtail hawks circling above him.
“One time I was out in the woods with my grandfather, and I told him about the dream I had,” he remembers. “He said, ‘Then your name should be Two Hawks.’ ”
He says the name also reflects the energy creating art generates in him. “I feel like I’m flying.”