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New artist illustrates Blind Willie poster

When it came to illustrating this year's lineup for the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, only a renowned artist would do.

So, when the artist who usually draws the poster wasn't available this year, Thomson's Jackson Cheatham went searching. Mr. Cheatham is the head of the printmaking department at Augusta State University. He also sits on the board of Blind Willie McTell Blues and Heritage Foundation. Each year, Mr. Cheatham finds an artist for the poster -- usually that artist is Alex Murawski and a team of designers at the University of Georgia.

"We went outside our normal poster-production team this year," said festival organizer Don Powers. "And Jack (Cheatham) had the good fortune to get Steve Penley to do our artwork."

With a list of corporate collectors such as the Coca-Cola Co., King and Spalding, Morgan-Keegan, Kilpatrick Stockton, various museums and universities; and private collectors that include governors, a former attorney general, former White House chiefs of staff, state senators, former Major League Baseball star Ron Gant, author Ferrol Sams and country singer Faith Hill, Mr. Penley obviously is no stranger to being paired with greatness.

This year, Mr. Penley joined Mr. Murawski, and other accomplished artists such as the late Keith Rasmussen, as creators of the Blind Willie posters.

The festival is held each year in Thomson to showcase the best blues musicians in the country. The festival also pays tribute to Willie McTell, a native of the Happy Valley community in McDuffie County, where he is buried.

This year's lineup includes headliner Little Feat, along with blues musicians Charlie Musselwhite and Magic Slim, Americana musician Justin Townes Earle, blues band Delta Moon and Georgia musicians the Odafe Trio.

Mr. Penley's artwork for the poster features the familiar image of Blind Willie wearing his suit and cap, sitting in a wooden ladder-back chair strumming a guitar. The artist's style of bright colors and exaggerated brush strokes brings the background to life through a flower garden.

"I've had more people than ever want this poster, and they're not fussing about paying for it," Mr. Powers said. The posters are sold at the festival.

The 2002 and 2008 posters, both by Mr. Murawski, won the Society of Illustrators Top 51 competition, and were displayed at the Museum of Illustration Gallery in New York City.

To see previous festival posters, or to learn more about the festival, go to

Web posted on Thursday, May 13, 2010

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