‘Angel of Grandin’ sculpture honors life of James Tarpley

For over 40 years, Betty Branch has created multiple sculptures in the Star City

ROANOKE, Va. – A new addition to the Grandin neighborhood is once again honoring their angel.

James Tarpley, often referred to as the ‘Angel of Grandin Village,’ was known as one of the most caring and helpful individuals in the neighborhood. When Tarpley passed, the Grandin community was devastated.

The area has done multiple things to honor his life since he passed. On the side of Rockfish Food and Wine, you’ll see a mural of Tarpley. A park was named after Tarpley because he was always there watching over it.

Owner of Rockfish Food and Wine, Olivia Byrd, loved everything Tarpley meant to the neighborhood.

“He was the angel of Grandin Village. He kept the neighborhood under his watchful eye at all times,” Byrd said.

Now there is a new addition to the village, a sculpture of Tarpley sitting on a bench outside the Roanoke Co-Op. The sculpture was created by Betty Branch, a well-known artist in Roanoke.

“We talked for a long time about many things and many places and eventually it just sort of evolved into the idea of putting James back where he so often sat,” Branch said.

Branch was asked to create the sculpture by a close friend, Ed Walker. After talking it over, it was time to figure out what the sculpture was going to look like. Branch received several photos from Tarpley’s close friends until there was one that just had to be re-created through the sculpture.

“Eventually it just became pretty obvious that sitting on the bench there, with his legs crossed and his arm up was just a typical James and something that would remind people of him,” Branch said.

Branch worked on the sculpture for months with her younger daughter Polly. They shipped the result to a foundry in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which cast a bronze replica by making a mold of the original from silicone, plaster, and wax. This week the sculpture finally found its place on the bench.

“Felt like people would recognize James and that was the whole point … to bring up those good memories that all the people in that area have about him,” Branch said.

Business owners now are reminded of Tarpley every time they pass the sculpture.

“When I first saw it, I was kind of taken back by it because it looks just like James sitting right there where he always was,” Byrd said.

The mural of Tarpley and the sculpture appear to be looking at each other.

About the Author

Connor Dietrich joined the 10 News team in June 2022. Originally from Castle Rock, Colorado, he's ready to step away from the Rockies and step into the Blue Ridge scenery.

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