Nils Westergard donates paintings to support the Byrd Theatre.

World renowned Richmond based artist Nils Westergard created and donated original artwork of Bob Gulledge and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ to be auctioned off to support the Wurlitzer Organ and the Byrd Theatre

Nils Westergard, (@NilsRVA) is a Richmond, VA based street artist, whose work can be found across the US, Europe and Australia. Bob Gulledge, house organist for the Byrd Theatre and Westergard have formed quite a connection over the last year. Gulledge saw Westergard working on a mural behind the Byrd Theatre. He commented “I didn’t want to interrupt his painting, so I looked him up and reached out.” Westergard replied, “What took you so long to call.” Thus, a friendship kindled, and a plan hatched.

Stacy Shaw, Executive Director of the Byrd Theatre, said, “The generous donation of these pieces of art by Nils Westergard and the partnership between he and the Byrd are an amazing gift. We are so excited to watch him work and to see the culmination of his weeks of prep work. His gift will allow us to continue our restoration work on the organ, so she continues to entertain audiences for many more years.”

The project begins

In the summer of 2020, the two came into the theatre and took photos of Gulledge playing the organ. Westergard has been working on his stencil process for weeks. He enlarges the photo and painstakingly cuts out stencils of the image over many hours of work. He’s been documenting his process as he goes. Westergard shared his excitement about the opportunity to work with the Byrd Theatre and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

The work culminated in the actual painting day, March 15th, 2021 at the Byrd Theatre. Westergard was able to get about 8 original paintings out of the stencils he has created. These originals will be for sale and the proceeds will benefit the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ at the Byrd Theatre. Westergard’s paintings typically start at $8,000-$10,000. If interested in purchasing, please contact the Byrd at [email protected]. All proceeds will go to support the Byrd Theatre Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

The Byrd will host an online auction in April – follow on email/Instagram/facebook to find out when they go on auction.

The painting process was video-taped and live-streamed on March 15thHumanStory Films is collaborating to produce a short video about the project, as well.

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is one of less than 40 surviving instruments in their original installation out of more than two thousand made by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company between 1914 and 1942. The Wurlitzer theatre organ was designed as a “one man orchestra” to accompany silent movies.

The organ has four keyboards and 17 ranks of organ pipes. The console connects to a marimba, a piano, a mandolin, chimes, sleigh bells, xylophone, and a full range of percussion instruments, including castanets, drums, a surf machine, tambourines, thunder, bird whistle, train whistle, automobile horn, horses’ hooves, and tom-toms. These instruments reside in rooms above the screen.

The Byrd Theatre organ has been played regularly since the theatre opened in 1928 by several house organists, but most people associate it with Eddie Weaver who played at the Byrd from 1961 to 1981. The current organist, Bob Gulledge, was Weaver’s student and has been house organist since 1996. He just celebrated 25 years with the Byrd Theatre on March 6th!

The Wurlitzer piano has been recently restored and is in beautiful working order. This instrument sits in one of the alcoves in the Auditorium. The Wurlitzer Organ is a work of art. We must maintain and restore it so that it continues to bring us the pleasure of listening to it.