Painter of iconic billboards dies

Published 7:41 pm Friday, October 24, 2014

James “Jim” Wilson passed away on Thursday, but his legacy remains visible in dozens of billboards along the Troy highway.

Wilson, 67, of Troy, died when the pickup truck he was driving struck a bridge on County Road 1111 around 9:30 a.m. He was alone at the time of the accident.

For more than 30 years, Wilson painted the more than two dozen billboards for Sikes and Kohn’s Country Mall that are prominent along the stretch of U.S. 231 between Troy and Montgomery.

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“He considered it product work, but we considered it art,” said Danny Sikes, co-owner of the business. “All of those billboards were painted with a 2-inch brush. Most people don’t know that.”

Wilson was a native of Montgomery who served in the Vietnam War after graduating high school. There, he was injured in a land mine accident and, after his discharge, attended Troy University to study art. It was there he met the Sikes brothers. “He used to hang out at the Theta Chi house, and I was a Theta Chi,” Danny Sikes said. “When my brother decided to start the business, Jim was working with Lamar Advertising. He figured he could do better on his own, so he came to work for us.”

For more than 25 years, Wilson painted the billboards, often working on scaffolding placed in front of the wooden signs on the roadways.

Eventually, they built a workshop for Wilson, bringing the billboards to him to be painted. About five years ago, Wilson’s health started to decline. Sikes said they helped him get treatment at the Veteran’s Administration facility in Tuskegee.

“When he was admitted, he didn’t really know what was going on around him,” Sikes said. “But one day, my daughter and I were going to visit him after church and when we walked into the day room he said ‘Hello, Lindsay’ and I knew then he was back …

“There are some true angels at the VA center who helped him recover.”

Sikes said Wilson had retired from painting signs, but still stayed active with his morning “rounds.” “He would make the rounds, checking on his friends,” Sikes said. “That’s what he was doing with then accident happened.”

Sikes said that loyal friendship was Wilson’s trademark. “He will be missed, not only for the work he did for us, but for the friendship we developed. Once he considered you a friend, you were a friend for life.”

Wilson’s remains will be interred at the Veterans Cemetery in Fairhope.