Monday, August 18, 2008

On the Road Looking for Murals

“To the Glory of G-d” Mural in Springfield, MO

Murals in Missouri and New Mexico

Over the past few weeks we have been in transit from Philadelphia, PA to Tucson, AZ. Along the way we have been visiting communities to try and get a feeling for the status of the arts in America. How are artists and community arts programs making their way in this new global economy?

One of our first stops was in Louisville KY. There is an active arts scene there with several community murals on underpasses and at least one "free" wall where aerosol artists work on ever changing images. There are several arts centers, galleries and performance centers. Its a beautiful town that seems to offer a full array of cultural activities.

We discovered several murals in Springfield and Joplin Missouri. The mural in Springfield was huge and located on an abandon grain silo. We met a few guys who maintained the property. They told us that Springfield was going through a revitalization of sorts. The old was being demolished for new upscale shops and apartment buildings. The mural was painted by local artists Obie Harrup III and Farley Lewis and sponsored by something called the Messiah Project. It was painted 10 years ago and is entitled “To the Glory of G-d”. Springfield MO is home to a number of religious collages, and felt like a deeply spiritual place. As we walked around the beautiful downtown I don’t think we saw one piece of trash. We noticed several other murals on businesses but no evidence of an organized program.

The next day we stumbled on a masterpiece in Joplin MO. “Joplin at the Turn of the Century 1896-1906” was painted by the great American artist Thomas Hart Benton in 1973 at the age of 82. The interior mural is located in the City Hall building. The 5 1/2’ x 14’ mural was the centerpiece of Joplin’s 100th Birthday. Benton began his career as an artist working as a cartoonist for the Joplin American newspaper in 1906. This mural was his last signed large scale work.

“Joplin at the Turn of the Century 1896-1906”

A few days later we found ourselves in Socorro, New Mexico. This small town is a beautiful piece of Southwestern culture and features many historical buildings including the San Miguel Mission, restored in the 1960’s. The original mission was burned during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. A second mission was built between 1819 and 1821. The center of town is the Kitrell Park Plaza. On one corner of the Plaza we discovered a mural painted on the side of the Manzanares Street Coffee House and bike shop.

The shop was closed and we didn't see an artists name on the mural. It’s a beautiful work of art with rich color and detail. We walked around the town enjoying the ambiance, imagining that many years ago this could be what Tucson or Santa Fe looked like.