Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
Murals of West Texas
March 5, 2003
Have you ever thought about taking a mural vacation? Any direction you go, and in almost every town you pass through, a mural is to be found. Starting here in Midland, we have Jo Dufos Happy Kids murals, the oil well and cattle drive murals downtown, the Permian Sea benthic murals at the Petroleum Museum, and a western scene in the cafeteria at Ben Milam Elementary, among others.
Some of the murals that can be found date back to the 1930s when the WPA hired artists to do murals in eighty plus post offices in Texas. Over at the Odessa post office is Stampede, by Tom Lea. Lea has gained some recent attention whenever Bush #43 has quoted him as he gives speeches. In fact, W has Leas painting entitled Rio Grande hanging in the Oval Office. Lea wrote This Wonderful Country and The Brave Bulls, now considered classics of Southwestern U.S. literature. Both books were made into films. Lea also did a mural at the post office in Seymour, Texas.
Harold D. Bugbee painted several post office murals in the panhandle, and at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum twenty-two of Bugbees works provide an incredible backdrop to their displays. Midlands Haley Library presented a showing of Bugbees work back in the 1990s. Most of the post office murals have an historical theme, with Indians and cowboys predominating. Several of the muralists traveled to Mexico to study with Diego Rivera before fulfilling their contracts.
Twenty eight miles north of Hereford, Texas is a little Catholic Church in the tiny town of Umbarger. During the last months of World War II Italian prisoners of war filled the church with murals. The U.S. government was having some trouble supplying food to the prison camp at Hereford so the priest and some farmers took pity on them and fed them in exchange for the murals. A few years ago the book Interlude in Umbarger told their story, and recently a production of Bellinis War, an opera based on the story debuted.
In 1957, over at Pecos, Bill Leftwich painted a mural in the old First National Bank. In 1967 the bank moved and the building stood empty. Vandals wreaked havoc on the interior (except for the mural). A few years ago the West Texas National Bank rescued the mural and moved it to their building. Mr. Leftwich also painted two murals for the infamous Billy Sol Estes in Pecos, not long before Estes went to prison. Leftwich is also an author of Texas history, with The Braceros and The Cowhunters among his credits. At the Fort Davis Courthouse, his statue of hometown war hero, Manuel Gonzalez, is shaded by the Chinkapin Oaks that surround the building. His sculpture of Audie Murphy can be found in Austin. A number of his paintings are at the West of the Pecos Museum in Pecos, and you can buy his work at the Adobe Hacienda Gallery in Fort Davis. I have been told that he reproduced the famous photo of Billy the Kid using leatherpunching as his medium.
Up in Crosbyton, Joe Taylor painted two murals, and restored an old 1920s mural that had been hidden by a building , but to his dismay the landowner next door later planted trees that now hide the old mural. In 1987 he painted a mural for Matador that depicts their local history. Mr. Taylor painted billboards in Hollywood in the 1970s and 1980s that featured the pop music stars of the era, before moving home to Crosbyton. His Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum presents paleontology from the Biblical creationist point of view. Among the displays is a sculpture of an oversized human femur that depicts the size of Goliath.
Down at McCamey, Glynda Taylor, (no relation to Joe Taylor) first painted the newspaper office with a southwestern design, and then for the towns 75th Anniversary in the year 2000 painted a mural of the town on a stores wall. Over at Ozona, Alfredo Tobar did three murals along the main street near the courthouse square. One depicts the sheep industry, another shows how Ozona appeared in the 1930s, and the other is an homage to law enforcement with an old west setting.
Murals are everywhere. Cisco has over 100 murals adorning the walls of their businesses. In San Angelo, Crystal Goodman just finished an Early Transportion Mural at South Chadbourne and Avenue C, right across from the restored railroad depot. At Alpine, murals are found inside and out at the Reata Restaurant. The Starlight Theatre in Terlingua has a wonderful nighttime cow country scene. Up at Artesia, New Mexico, murals with historical themes grace several buildings. Lubbock has a number of murals, including several scenes of the early day Llano Estacado in the Cactus Theatre.
My favorite set of outdoor paintings is in the little town of Seagraves, ninety miles northwest of Midland. At the Cotton Country Motel, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico Marx peer from the doors of rooms, as do the Three Stooges. Charlie Chaplin is on yet another door. Along the fence in front of the motel is a mural of three folks sitting at a lunch counter. At the feedstore, a bunch of painted-on chickens peck along the curb. At a garage an elderly lady berating the owner enlivens a wall. On another wall of the garage a carhop walks away from the faux window of a fast food diner while a 50s leather jacketed thug leans against the wall smoking a cigarette. There are more, but Seagraves has an art museum, too, if you want something besides drive-by art.
While doing research for this story I learned of Edens Ronald Earl McGuffin. All I found was an obituary that related McGuffin left a trail of murals across west Texas. If you know more about Mr. McGuffin, or know names and stories about other West Texas muralists that I did not mention give me a call at 432-684-6827. And call and give me your opinion which of the murals mentioned above are folk art, and which can be considered art with a capital A.