Alpine’s Post Office with a View of the Past

     Public art in the form of murals has become so popular in recent years, but they aren’t anything new. The next time you drive through a small town in Texas, stop into the local post office and take a look around. You might just find fine art where you’d least expect it.

     Often referred to as “WPA murals,” examples of fine artwork created to enhance public buildings were actually a gift from the government to its citizens.

     But, first thing’s first . . . the painting in Alpine wasn’t actually created as part of the Works Progress Administration. The WPA (I’m not going to drown you in details here) was created in 1935 as part of the “Second New Deal” to provide jobs for unemployed men during the depression. Most of the jobs were in construction, building roads, bridges, schools, parks, and airports. There were also artists recruited by the WPA, but they were given fairly free rein in the subjects they painted.

     The murals I’d like to introduce you to were created by the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture which was created a year earlier than the WPA. It was later called the Section of Fine Arts. The goal of this program was to “secure for the Government the best art which this country is capable of producing.” Luckily for us, this art was contracted to decorate federally owned buildings, including hundreds of post offices around the county.  That meant that everyone could enjoy fine art in their everyday lives, and the hope was that it would uplift the spirits of citizens during the hard times.

     As one writer summed it up, “One boosted paychecks, and the other boosted morale.”

     Professional artists (no students or amateurs could apply) entered competitions for Section assignments and were encouraged to visit the individual communities so their artwork would reflect local life or history. And unlike the WPA paintings, Section artists had to have their proposed artwork approved by committee and were limited in the subjects they were allowed to portray.

     One project of “The Section” placed artists in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps to create paintings of CCC work and life, and to make safety posters and decorate camp buildings for that project. The Section even provided sculptures to be exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

     By the end of the program (brought on by World War II) 1,047 murals and 268 sculptures had been created – which is pretty darn amazing. You can still find some of them today, but many have been lost due to building restorations, demolitions or public buildings being bought by private owners.

   Anyway….

   That’s why I went looking for an example in Alpine on a recent trip through West Texas. The subject especially spoke to me, since it portrays people reading. And nothing makes the heart of someone who writes books happier than seeing someone reading!

     It was installed in 1940 inside the town’s new post office which was built by…you guessed it…the WPA.

     The building on the corner of 6th Street and Avenue E served as the town’s post office through 2000, when it became the appraisal office for Brewster County. Since that building is open to the public, you can still see the mural in person during weekday business hours. You just have to walk a bit to the left and peer around a few light fixtures and bulletin boards!

     In 1939, a Spanish-American artist Jose Moya del Pino (1891-1969) living in San Francisco entered a TDSFA competition to paint a post office mural in San Antonio. His design depicting Sam Houston and the Alamo didn’t win, but he received a consolation assignment at the new Alpine building. The sketches he submitted with a “View of Alpine” did the trick that time.

    Jose couldn’t afford to travel to Texas to take a look at the town for ideas, so he asked for suggestions from the local postmistress, who told him about the local college, cowboys and scenery. From there he went to work painting this 4’ x 12’ work in oil on Masonite. He even used a neighbor who happened to own a hat and boots as his model for the cowboy.

     When he completed the work in 1940, he accompanied it to Alpine for the installation and unveiling. The depiction of three locals relaxing with books on a hillside, with the Twin Sisters Peaks and Sul Ross State College (now University) in the background were a hit. The only question one local had was why a cowboy would be reading when the cattle were roaming unattended. (A valid question from someone who would probably never let that happen!)

     I love the style and subject matter of this painting. It portrays an idealized but beautiful vision of our state, and it was well worth the stop whether you call it a Section or WPA creation.

     Now, who’s ready to go out and hunt down a few more these treasures?


Waxahachie’s Courthouse Square Kaleidoscope

     Waxahachie courthouse Square kaleidoscope takes looking at the world through rose colored glasses one step further. The Internet active artwork created by Eddie and Mary Elizabeth Phillips sits on the corner of Main and College Street, just across the street from the fabulous Ellis County Courthouse. You overlook it if you’re as entranced with courthouse architecture as I am, but it’s worth looking for! It takes the cardboard kaleidoscopes of our youth to a while new level.

     Built of scrap metal and stained glass, visitors can spin the glass wheel at one end and then look through the triangular opening at the other for a burst of ever changing colors. And the installation is near the corner streetlight it can even be enjoyed at night. (Good thinking!)

     Click these links to see videos of this kinetic beauty in action, and then make a note to give it a spin yourself when you’re in the area!

Waxahachie-Kaleidescope-1

Waxahachie-Kaleidescope-2

     Were you as fascinated with kaleidoscopes as a kid as I was?

Ewe’ve Got to See This: Painted Sheep of San Angelo

     Ewe better believe there’s something, well…sheepish about San Angelo.

     No matter where you look, there they are: fiberglass sheep sculptures in every color and design imaginable.

     Some cities have cows, horses or pelicans. Here sheep started grazing around town in 2007 as a nod to the town’s past, when it was known as the Wool Capital of the World.

     Each is sponsored (usually by the location where they’re making an appearance) and given a punny name: Happy Trails to EWE, Lambscapes, Don’t EWE Mess with Texas, Lucky EWE, Lamb of God, and more. MANY more.

     With over 100 sheep in this colorful flock they can keep visitors happily hunting for days.

     If you’re ready to start off on a sheep-tacular scavenger hunt of your own, this list is a great place to start.

Virtual Travel: Waxahachie, Texas

     This week we had a quick visit and virtual tour of the English Merchant’s Inn in Waxahachie . . . one of my favorite bed and breakfasts in Texas. If you missed it, you can catch the replay below, then refer to the links below for more fun to be found in this gem of a small town.

Click these links to find more information and photos:

English Merchant’s Inn

Waxahachie Courthouse Folklore

Hachie Hearts

Waxahachie’s Love Lock Bridge

Sam Houston’s Wife and a Kindred Connection

   Texan artist Tra Slaughter painted this mural of Sam Houston on the back of a building in downtown Brenham, facing the railroad tracks. If this image of Houston seems odd to you, you may not be familiar with his connection to the Cherokees.

   In 1809 at the age of 16, Sam Houston ran away from home in Tennessee and lived among the Cherokees. He was adopted by Chief Oolooteka and given the name Colonneh or the Raven.

   Although I grew up in Texas, I first heard about this other name while attending the university named after this Texan forefather. The name cropped up often around Huntsville in business names.

   While I was learning more about Houston, I found that his Cherokee wife’s name was Talahina “Tiana” Rogers . . . a name that sounded pretty darn familiar to me. Always fascinated with my mother’s Cherokee lineage, I started researching her genealogy when I was just 12.

   Sure enough, Talahina‘s great grandparents William Emory and Mary Suzannah Grant were my seventh great grandparents. So while it is a distant connection, I was happy to learn that I had a personal link to this fascinating woman.

   Talahina’s mother Elizabeth was the sister of my 6th great-grandmother Susannah. Both were born in Houston’s home state of Tennessee to William and Mary Emory.

Gravestone of “Taina” Rogers in Muskogee, Oklahoma

   Sam Houston had three wives, but for obvious reasons, this one is a special interest of mine.

   This mural is spectacular, and also features an actual raven and a Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas. Art is such a terrific way to relate pieces of history.

   Have you done any research on your family tree? You never know what or who you’ll find.

Birdwatcher Alert: A Phoenix on Galveston

     What’s 15 feet tall with a 35-foot wingspan and gleams in the sunlight? A metal statue of a Phoenix created by Houston based artist Bob Bacon that now guards the gate of his brother’s Galveston ranch.

     Bacon’s creation first appeared in the 2017 Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade, after he created it as a post Hurricane Harvey symbol of hope and recovery.

     Since it’s big debut, the statue has been nesting in a warehouse, waiting for its next chance to take flight.

     The onset of the coronavirus pandemic inspired the family to install the phoenix on Galveston Island to once again provide a symbol of hope. The Bacon Ranch is an appropriate home for this particular piece of artwork, since most of the land on the ranch has been set aside as grounds for the migrating birds that pass over Galveston Island each year.

     The family welcomes visitors to pull along the side of the road to get a close look and photos, but asks that no one trespass beyond the fence.

     To visit, travel west from Galveston on FM 3005 past Jamaica Beach, and look on the north side of the road.

     No binoculars required!

Waxahachie: Straight from the Heart

     If you’re looking for a place with heart . . . you’ll want to add Waxahachie to your travel list.

     The “Hachie Hearts Trail” project was initiated as a part of the city’s “A Place in Your Heart, Texas” campaign in this charming town. Large hearts (locals call them “puffy hearts”) decorated with different by artists have been installed around town as public art.

     Besides just being enjoyable as to find a view, the hearts can present a fun activity for families or groups. Make it a challenge to find all of the hearts. If you’re in a group, it would be fun to take a selfie with each of the hearts, and the first group back to an agreed upon meeting spot wins.

     And if you make that meeting spot Farm Luck Soda Fountain on the courthouse square (YUM!), everyone wins!

 

     “Hearticulture,” appropriately covered with hearts, was painted by Michael Poston and Jenny Galbrath


“All-American City” by Julie Law

“Here Comes the Sun” by artist Leah Lawless-Smith

     The psychedelic sunrise was sponsored by the staff of the local Sun Newspaper. Look for hidden images on both sides, chosen by members of the staff.

     “Hollywood Texas” by artists Leah Lawless-Smith, Candace Faber, Steve Miller and Mike Duncan. This movie themed heart features scenes from films shot in Waxahachie, like Bonnie and Clyde, Tender Mercies, and Places in the Heart.


“Crape Myrtle Capital” by artists Julie Law

“High Cotton” in Hachie by Damion Brooker is a nod to one  of the traditional crops of the area…and probably my favorite heart.

“Emotions” by Leah Lawless-Smith

     “Oobie’s Town and Waxahachie All-Star Band” by Julie Law this one at the entrance to Getzendaner Park, backside of heart is a sepia-toned rendition of several of the musicians who have grace the stage of the Chatauqua Auditorium.

and

“Land of the Free” by Gerald Spriggs


     Which is your favorite?

     After you find all of the Hachie Hearts, stop in at the County Museum on the square and take a look around. They have heart shaped locks for sale that you can write the name of someone you love on, and then attach to either the love lock fence downtown, or the love lock bridge by the old train depot. Leaving a little of your heart behind in Waxahachie . . .

 

 

Click here to see a video of Waxahachie’s

Love Lock Bridge

 

Long, Tall Tex Randall Rides Again

     If you think you have trouble finding clothes to fit, just be thankful you aren’t a 47-foot tall cowboy!

     You’ve heard the saying that everything is “bigger in Texas,”

     “Tex Randall,” the 47-foot tall, seven ton statue in Canyon, Texas was designed and built in 1959 by Harry Wheeler (1914-1997) to draw Route 66 tourists to his Corral Curio Shop and six-room motel. Wheeler, an industrial arts teacher, spent ten months forming the lanky cowboy out of six-inch wire mesh, rebar and concrete.

     And here’s the really amazing part…

     Though his clothes are painted on today, they weren’t originally! Tex’s first Western-style shirt was made by Amarillo awning, using an impressive 1,440 square feet of material. Wheeler sewed it closed in back with sailboat thread, and created sheet aluminum snap buttons and a belt buckle the size of a television screen.

     Levi Strauss’ nearby plant made real jeans for him that had to be sewn onto the statue on site. The pants were lifted into place with a crane, and Wheeler stood below, adjusting the “fit” and sewing them together. How’s that for a tall tailor order?

     Tex’s boots and features were painted onto the surface of the statue, and he was crowned with a Stetson style hat.

     As far as relics from the Route 66 heyday, this tall Texan definitely fits the bill. He became one of the roadside attractions that people would drive miles to see and photograph.

     Due to reconstruction of the highway, business at his shop and motel declined. That and personal business caused Wheeler sold the property in 1963. He refused offers to buy Tex that came in from Las Vegas and businesses along Route 66, preferring that his labor of love remain in Canyon.

     The following decades of Panhandle winds and weather shredded the figure’s fabric clothes; a semi-truck crashed into his left boot and the original cigarette was shot out of his right hand. The elements sandblasted away large portions of his skin, and his concrete fingers began to crumble.

     An Amarillo area businessman purchased Tex with the intention of moving him to his business, but gave up when he learned it would cost $50,000.

     In 1987, local community leaders began a “Save the Cowboy” campaign and raised the money to restore Tex. The no longer socially acceptable cigarette in his hand was replaced with a spur, new clothes were painted on to replace the lost fabric set, and he was given an 80s-style moustache.

     By 2010, it became apparent that a more thorough restoration of the statue was needed, and the Canyon community and Canyon Main Street volunteers rallied to save the icon.

     The Texas Department of Transportation stepped in to help and set aside almost $300,000 to turn the land around Tex’s boots into a park.

    Tex’s cameo appearance in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue provided the exposure to increase interest in the project. After six years of fundraising and work, the project was completed in December 2016, and Tex received his own Texas State Historical Marker in 2017.

     Tex’s appearance now more closely resembles his original 1950s appearance, and much to Wheeler’s daughter Judy’s delight the moustache is gone.

     Tex isn’t the state’s “biggest Texan” any more … he is outsized by the Sam Houston statue in Huntsville, but this lanky character holds a special place in generations of Panhandle residents’ hearts and tourists’ photos.

     If you plan to go by and say “Howdy” to Tex, swing into 1400 North 3rdAvenue, Canyon, Texas.


 

Hit the Brakes – It’s Cadillac Ranch!

     Chances are if you’ve seen any photos of Route 66, a shot of the infamous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo was among them. The row of ten, graffiti-covered Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground has become famous around the world.

     Their make and models are no longer discernible due to weathering and layers of paint, but everyone seems to know they’re Cadillacs.

     The public art installation gained immediate attention from its inception in 1974 by eccentric businessman-turned-artist Stanley Marsh 3 (he thought the III after his name was too pretentious).

     Marsh commissioned the Ant Farm, a radical art group consisting of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Dough Michaels, to carry out his plan.

     The classic Caddies dating from 1948 to 1963 were purchased for about $200 apiece and were installed with their original paint jobs. Depending on their drivability they were either hoisted or driven into the holes that became their almost-final resting places in a wheat field just outside the city limits.

     The temptation to visitors to leave their mark on the unusual sight became a rite of Route 66 passage, and didn’t seem to bother Marsh who embraced the enthusiasm of the new tradition.

     In 1997 urban sprawl necessitated moving the interactive folk art attraction a couple of miles down the road to its current site in a former cow pasture on I-40. The cars were carefully moved and reset in their original order and angle. It’s said that even some of the surrounding debris was moved to the new location with them, but that seems more like a bit of a Texas Tall Tale in the making.

     The cars were repainted in their original colors in 2002, and in 2003 they were painted in flat black to mourn the passing of the founder of the Ant Farm.

     Other than those two efforts, the colors and patterns have constantly evolved thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of visitors. It will never look exactly the same, even if you visit two days in a row.

     The Cadillac Ranch was one of our most anticipated stops along our trek across the Texas section of Route 66, and it didn’t disappoint. It almost shouts, “Just enjoy and don’t take yourself so seriously.”

Brooks & Dunn video

     You may even recognize the Ranch from Brooks & Dunn’s “Honky Tonk” music video  or Pixar’s animated ‘Cars’ movie – where its silhouette was used as the design for a mountain range.

     But let me steer you in the right direction for your own Caddie Outing . . .

     First of all, it’s free…so there’s no excuse to pass up the opportunity to visit. Plan to bring at least one can of spray paint per person to join in the fun.

     Heading east on I-40, take Exit 60 (Arnot Road). Pass through the intersection with Love’s Truck Stop and keep an eye out for cars parked on the side of the road to your right. Yes, the Cadillac Ranch is open 24/7/365 so there are always cars.

     Don’t expect a big touristy, lighted sign shouting the location, though. What you’ll see first is a turnstile gate and parked cars before you spot the Caddies propped up in a pasture in the distance.

     Typical for a summer day in the Panhandle, it was hot and windy so hats, sunscreen and water are essentials.

     The day we visited there was a fellow selling key chains and other quirky mementoes made from paint that had chipped off the cars, by the gate out of the back of his truck. Enterprising, but we passed. You’ll see large pieces of this layered paint on the ground surrounding the cars, so you can pick up one to make your own creation if you like.

     Once you pass through the turnstile a wide dirt path leads out to the Cadillacs.


     Note: the turnstile gate was the only access I saw while I was there, so unless a visitor in a wheelchair has assistance to get through the tight gate and has their folded chair passed as well, I’m not entirely sure this would be accessible. I would advise calling the visitors’ bureau who might know of another way in.

     I’ve also heard that the site can turn into quite a mud pit after a rain, but our timing didn’t make that an issue.

     We purposely wore clothes that we didn’t mind getting speckled with a bit of paint, since the wind chose exactly where the spray went.

     Don’t hesitate to jump right in and leave your mark on any or all of the cars. It’ll last at least until the next “artist” comes along.  Be aware if you’re climbing on or inside them that though they’re remarkable sturdy…they are deteriorating and shouldn’t be 100% trusted to support you!

     Some people even spray-painted messages and patterns in the dirt surrounding the cars, which was so hard it made a pretty good canvas.

     Visitors are asked to carry out their empty spray cans to toss in the trash bins along the fence line, but of course not everyone does. Be a bit of a hero and pick an extra one up to throw out with yours!

     The only traffic jam these cars see any more are the crowds that surround them. We chatted with people from several states and different countries and of all ages, and everyone was having a ball.

     Off-beat? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! The Cadillac Ranch makes my list of must-stops along the road.