Artist of the Month specializes in nostalgic images

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 8, 2012

 Highland resident Jim Williams, Sterling Heights’ Artist of the Month for October, specializes in paintings of past and present Michigan landmarks.

Highland resident Jim Williams, Sterling Heights’ Artist of the Month for October, specializes in paintings of past and present Michigan landmarks.

Photo by Edward Osinski

Shoppers bundled against the blustery weather. Decorated trees glowing in the store windows. Lazy snowflakes drifting past streetlamps.

At one time, it was Christmas on Woodward — more specifically, Christmas at Hudson’s, the famed department store in downtown Detroit.

The building is long gone: closed in 1983, razed in 1998. But it lives on in the memories of patrons who made visiting it a cherished tradition — and in the paintings of Highland resident Jim Williams, who’s established a niche for himself by re-creating iconic Detroit landmarks of yesterday and today.

The Sterling Heights Artist of the Month said he chooses his subjects based on their nostalgic value, their resonance with southeastern Michiganders. 

“I’m doing paintings that do sort of relate to the past and everyday experience here in our greater region,” said Williams.

Subsequently, his portfolio includes Comerica Park, Tiger Stadium and its predecessor, Briggs Stadium, Joe Louis Arena, Olympia Stadium, Belle Isle’s Scott Fountain, the Fox Theatre, Meadow Brook Hall in winter and more.

There’s the Michigan Central Train Station in its 1930s glory, its now-darkened windows fully illuminated, the street outside busy with the automobiles of the era. There are the Boblo Island boats “Columbia” and “Ste. Claire,” sailing majestically down the Detroit River against the backdrop of a fat moon and the 1950s city skyline.

Williams also has depicted suburban locales and events, including Northville’s Main Street, the Plymouth Ice Festival and the Rochester Christmas Parade, as well as various scenes from Mackinac Island.

Though he considers his Michigan-focused work his bread and butter, he’s also dabbled in other cities, such as Chicago, and in other subject matter, such as seascapes, castles and trains.

He described his style as “realism/impressionist,” done exclusively in oils and with “a sort of whimsical element, a little bit of personal reflection.”

“There’s usually a personal element in there, something in there that reminds them of their own personal experience.”

With the exception of the occasional art class at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, Williams is self taught. He said he painted as an “avocation” until his retirement 20 years ago as a state of Michigan caseworker, when he had more time to commit himself more fully into the “more demanding, involved” landmark paintings.

He’s shown and sold pieces at shows, exhibits and fairs throughout the state and beyond — including “Hudson’s: The Real Christmas Store” at the Detroit Historical Museum 1999-2000 — and picking up various awards along the way.

Williams said he couldn’t pluck one painting from the bunch as his most treasured. Even more than a finished product, he said, he enjoys the start-to-finish experience as a whole.

“It’s really the process, seeing it unfold, seeing how it turns out,” he said.

He said he often receives feedback from people with their own memories of the places he’s frozen in time with paint.

“There’s always a conversational … element,” he said. “You get a lot of response like that. There’s always somebody who seems to relate to something I’m showing out there.”

The Sterling Heights Cultural Commission continues to seek applicants for the Artist of the Month program. Applicants can hail from anywhere in the state. For more information, visit or call (586) 446-2489.

Williams’ pieces will be on display throughout October in the lower level of Sterling Heights City Hall, 40555 Utica Road; and at the Used But Sterling Bookstore, inside the Sterling Heights Public Library, 40255 Dodge Park Road.

For more information on his artwork, visit