February 10, 2021 442 PM
ALPINE — Texas CEO Magazine, a quarterly aimed at some of the state’s leading business executives, plans a feature story for its spring edition on an ever-increasing inventory of murals appearing all over Alpine, particularly in the downtown area.
Alpine has been known for its art colony for more than 85 years, but the spate of murals is a more recent phenomenon.
“The first thing is to acknowledge Keri [Blackman] and her ArtWalk committee producing originals by Stylle [Read],” Tourism Director Chris Ruggia said.
“Keri really started the concept of iconic downtown murals with the one on the west side of Kiowa Gallery before that,” he said. “Efforts of that committee really established Alpine as a place for murals.”
It was Blackman who gave the initial boost to the mural experience while preparing for the 20th anniversary of ArtWalk in 2013. She commissioned Cleburne artist Stylle Read, who had painted the earlier mural on the west side of her Kiowa Gallery, to create a new mural in one weekend.
That result quickly became the most iconic mural in town. Called “Poco a Poquito,” it features a calendar in Spanish topped with a picture of a man serenading a woman. Read took some poetic license with the art, adding an image of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church four blocks due south of the mural.
The earlier mural on Kiowa Gallery is called “Big Brewster.” It has images of people and places such as the CF Ranch, Big Bend National Park, the iconic Twin Peaks west of town and a steam-engine train to signify the first laid tracks in 1882 that helped create the town.
Television actor Dan Blocker, best known for his role as Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza, is prominent. He graduated from Sul Ross State Teacher’s College in 1950 where he also played football. Also pictured is 06 Ranch owner Herbert Kokernot, who founded the Alpine Cowboys baseball team along with Kokernot Field.
For years, a food truck selling Thai food partially blocked parts of the first mural from view, but new landowners Ryan and Vanessa Kinkade have already changed that. While they plan to keep the food truck concept, crews this month moved in and began removing the superstructure and other items blocking the mural. Now both murals are once again clearly visible from the street.
“It’s really exciting to see the different individuals who picked up on the [murals] concept and ran with that, particularly in the alley between 5th and 6th [Streets],” Tourism Director Ruggia said.
While Alpine has been known for its attractive, high quality murals for more than a decade, the downtown “Alley Art” scene is a rather new addition to an increasingly popular tourist and local venue. It is in a recently-repaved alley just north of the 100 block of East Holland Avenue.
“That activity has expanded not just the number but the variety with so many local artists,” Ruggia said. “It’s very exciting and has given visitors so much more to spend time exploring.”
Alley Art was a creation of several local artists, led primarily by Liz Sibley, Nancy Whitlock and Carolyn Mangrem. Whitlock also has created a walking tour featuring the murals and a brochure to go along with it. Alley Art built on a project 25 years ago with help from the Texas Historical Commission’s Main Street program when Alpine was a participant.
“The number of murals I was aware of began to grow as I kept walking around town,” Whitlock said. “Yet once completed, I learned the map was missing several very good murals. The final publication of the map helped cause sparks to fly for more murals and ideas for funding more murals are being proposed as I type.”
The Alpine Downtown Association has used the arts as a key draw to the area and it has worked well. The ADA created the slogan “Heart of the Arts” for one event and that has kind of stuck as a slogan for Alpine in general.
Its most successful event to date has been what it calls “Harvest Moon” centered largely around the Alley Art project. One of the first murals by a local artist was dedicated in that Alley Art location in the first Harvest Moon in 2017.
Pauline Hernandez was putting the final touches on her “Desert Scene” mural on the side of Mangrem’s Studio in the alley even as it was being dedicated.
Harvest Moon also has had music by John Ferguson of Presidio and his noted Mariachi Santa Cruz and a jazz concert at the Holland Hotel all three years. Ferguson also sat in on the jam sessions with his trumpet each year. Other musicians performed in the alley.
The concept of an “art colony” goes back more than 85 years. Mary Bones, director of the popular Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross campus, said a summer art colony in 1932 was held on the campus of Sul Ross State Teachers College, now Sul Ross State University.
“Two six-week courses were offered for enrolled Sul Ross students and artists who wished to refine their skills,” she said. “Led by Xaveir Gonzalez and Julius Woeltz, the Art Colony was a successful and popular offering for the college.”
She said before coming to Sul Ross, Gonzalez and Woeltz traveled to Mexico to study the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. At Sul Ross, they each worked on a number of large works that are in the collection of the Museum of the Big Bend.
“During the Depression, Gonzalez won competitions for post office murals in Covington and Hammond, Louisiana, Huntsville and Kilgore, Texas,” Bones said.
A large mural of his now dominates the lobby of the Limpia Hotel in Fort Davis.
“Woeltz’s post office murals were in Benton, Arkansas, and in Elgin and Amarillo, Texas,” she said. “The summer Art Colony continued until 1950 with some of the most prominent Texas regionalist artists coming to the high desert county of the Big Bend to teach studio work and plein air.”
But 70 years later, the arts at the heart of Alpine continue to grow.
Disclaimer: The writer of this story, Jim Street, is president of the Alpine Downtown Association.