Colin Williams sketched a picture of the “perfect” house while seated in a warm hotel lobby nearly four miles away from Druid Hill Park, which he called home for over a year. He moved into the park during the pandemic after working back-to-back unfulfilling jobs and yearning for autonomy and the freedom to create artwork on his own terms — which he did near the Rawlings Conservatory on Swann Drive.
Williams, who called himself the “unofficial artist-in residence,” is now in a downtown hotel after his artwork and self-made fortress in the park were taken down by the Department of Public Works on Dec. 15. As he gripped a ballpoint pen with slightly chipped lime green polish on his fingernails this week, he drew an aspirational space big enough to accommodate his art. The city is working on getting permanent housing for Williams.
“I am not at all dissatisfied with what’s going on now,” he said.
Staying in the park was never a forever plan, but in the past, Williams rejected housing because of the “long, drawn-out” process to find it. This time, he was ready. He considered the cold weather and learned that housing services could be expedited. He also said he didn’t want to disappoint people who care about him by not accepting help and a chance to be safe and comfortable.
Last week, the public works department took down the artwork that was known as Williams’ sculpture garden. Those familiar with Williams and his art expressed concern.
William Minor Jr., who befriended the artist when he first moved into the park, said he was initially angry when he found out about Williams’ dismantled work. But, when he discovered Williams had an opportunity for housing, Minor said he was extremely happy for him. Minor tracked him down at the hotel and took Williams and a small group of friends and family to dinner in Hampden.
“What artist gets that chance? It’s a miracle,” Minor said, referring to the housing opportunity.
Williams said he received so much love and care from visitors in the park when he lived there. He’s “rich” because of the valuable kindness of strangers, and he’s taken aback by how so many people are invested in his well-being. The park became a makeshift art school for him and gave him more confidence in his work. While he is appreciative of this opportunity, he said he cried driving away from the place he called home because he thought the entire experience was “the best of his life” so far.
That experience came to an end when Williams said he was approached by two individuals who identified themselves as Baltimore City officials on Dec. 13. He was asked questions about his living situation in the park. He was offered housing and one of the officials said that the Department of Public Works was eventually going to come and clear the space, he said.
Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department said in a statement last week that during a winter shelter declaration, when the temperature with wind chill reaches freezing, multiple city departments and agencies increase efforts to shelter people experiencing homelessness.
Williams was able to pick out a few items on the smaller side, he said, to place in the truck of the person who’d be taking him from the park. He grabbed what he could, including spray paints and other art supplies a group of bicyclists recently gifted to him. He said they connected with him after reading The Baltimore Banner story about his life.
He was checked into a hotel downtown and is booked there through the beginning of January. At the hotel, he has a bed, access to breakfast and a place to wash his clothes.
Williams asked to go back to the park the day after he was picked up to select more items. Baltimore City Recreation and Parks agreed to keep some of his artwork in one of their storage facilities. He said he stored mostly flat items and a lot of his finished glassware. He previously took down an installation he dedicated to his mother because it was deteriorating, but he stored pieces of that, too.
He admitted he was disappointed to leave behind certain things he acquired or that people gave him, like the chiminea, a generator, a vintage table, and an iron archway he said he carried from Walbrook Junction to Druid Hill Park in the middle of the night.
Williams is unclear about what exactly is next for him, but jokingly declared he does not “have to contend with the goddamn squirrels,” which used to cunningly get into his belongings at Druid Hill Park. He’s “going with the flow” and waiting to see what will be available to him. He hopes he is placed in housing by his birthday on Jan. 5.
He recently walked to an appointment, he said, and peeked in different alleyways for supplies, but he knew he couldn’t take them and create. For now, he’s telling himself he’s on Christmas vacation.
In this next chapter of his life, Williams said, he wants to be able to give back to those who gave to him. And, he doesn’t want his experience in the park to be in vain.
“I want all the amenities of life, but my artwork has to get me there,” he said.