Creating With Crayola : The Picture Show Nashville artist Herb Williams uses tens of thousands of Crayola crayons — not for coloring, but for building.

Creating With Crayola

Herb Williams is one of the few people in the world who have an individual account with Crayola. The company is on his speed dial. He's on a first-name basis with many of the employees. So what merits this special treatment? Because Williams orders a lot of crayons. Boxes of them. Thousands and thousands of them. Three thousand Crayola crayons in a 50-pound case.

But he doesn't use them to draw or color — he uses them to build. Williams is a classically trained sculptor who used to work in a bronze foundry. Later, he used every material he could think of — from cigarette butts to Q-tips — to build his creations before finally stumbling upon the idea of crayons.

As a sculptor, Williams loved the form and feel of the materials he was working with. He wanted to see the steel, or the grain in the wood, and not cover it up with paint. Crayons provided him with a way to sculpt and to use color.

Williams got started at an early age, winning his first art show in kindergarten. But there wasn't a lot of art in the small Alabama town where he grew up. Very few people had ever been to a museum or a gallery. It was for the people that he knew — the common man — that Williams wanted to create his art.

That art is garnering increased attention. Recently, the Obama administration asked Williams to design some pieces that the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could give as gifts to foreign dignitaries. And the National Endowment for the Arts gave him a grant. Or, rather, they gave a nonprofit art alliance group in Lubbock, Texas, a grant to have Williams come work in their community.

For Williams, it's a great opportunity to bring art to a new group of people. "A lot of the folks I show the work to have no art background," Williams told us over the phone. "But they've held a crayon. It's a friendly way to invite them into my world, where I can introduce them to larger ideas."