28th annual Alpine Artwalk gives voice to regional creators

Kathleen Griffith live paints blackfoot daisies on her southwestern wildflowers portion of the collaborative “Postcards from The Big Bend” mural during Alpine’s 28th annual Artwalk. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

ALPINE — Downtown Alpine was abuzz this past weekend with art in every direction — murals decorated alleyways, artists populated indoor galleries and outdoor vendor tents and a live music stage entertained crowds of beer-gripping, funnel cake-eating Texans. 

The annual Alpine Artwalk, now in its 28th year, was back this year after being canceled in 2020 due to coronavirus. The streets of downtown Alpine were closed off to make room for the crowds and numerous galleries and shops opened their doors to allow for the free flow of customers and cool autumn air. 

The mission of Artwalk is to support local artists and promote tourism in Alpine, with many visitors coming to the event from the Midland-Odessa area. The emerging mural scene is quickly earning Alpine a reputation as a public art destination, with the newly completed mural “A Tribute to Texas Musicians,” by Stylle Read on view at the corner of 5th and Murphy and an alley off 6th street between Avenue E and Holland which is exploding with freshly-painted murals.

“We’re trying to promote the art alley that’s cropping up in Downtown. It’s really getting better and better month by month,” said John Davis, who has helped organize Artwalk since the inaugural event in the early ’90s. 

Artist Kathleen Griffith was in the midst of putting the finishing touches on her portion of the collaborative “Postcards From The Big Bend Mural,” an ode to the wildflowers of Southwest Texas on Saturday. Liz Sibley and Nancy Whitlock spearheaded the initiatives to funkify the alleyway a few years ago, said Griffith. 

Ever the plant lady, Griffith wore overalls with succulent and cacti illustrations on them and was friendly to curious passersby. Creatives including Griffith are also jazzing up wooden light poles in the alley by painting them with various themes. 

“I’m going to put plants, and I’m going to make butterflies out of ceramics, then add the butterflies to the pole. I like nature as you can tell,” Griffith laughs. “That’s my thing, I love anything that teaches people about nature.” 

An acoustic rendition of “Pancho and Lefty,” played by Griffith’s husband’s band, drifted along the corridor. In addition to the main “Budweiser” stage, troubadours dotted the Artwalk routes. 

Kerry Awn was showing some of his Austin poster art from the ’70s and ’80s at the Alpine Museum of Pop Culture and said mural alley is gaining traction.

“A lot of people don’t know about it. They’re just discovering it right now, this weekend. So eventually, there’ll be a lot more art and murals and the whole town will be painted eventually.” 

The newly-established Alpine Museum of Pop Culture borders the flourishing mural alley. The museum, which also has locations in Austin and San Antonio specific to the regional culture, is not officially open and has yet to undergo renovations, but will soon host events and serve as a nonprofit for local art and music. 

Awn said the space will support local artists like George Zupp or “Chicken George,” who was selling artwork outside the building in a red western shirt. He said he appreciates the Alpine art crowd and Artwalk sometimes provides him with inspiration for his paintings. 

“It’s fun to hang out and meet new characters. I like learning new stories from people that show up. There’s great subjects here, it’s like, ‘Ooh, who’s that dude?’ I want to make work about some of what he’s blabbing about,” said Zupp. 

Tom Curry, an artist and illustrator who owns Curry Gallery in Alpine and is well-known for his signature Southwestern style, was selling a fair amount of prints inside the museum. Curry’s work includes children’s books, paintings and editorial illustrations for Texas Monthly. He said while Marfa is the more widely acknowledged “art town” of the region, Alpine has a different flavor to offer. 

“We’re trying to catch up with Marfa in terms of being an arts destination. People come out here and they hear about Marfa then they come over to Alpine and say, ‘This is cool too’,” said Curry. 

An art bus parked along the main strip attracted guests with its unconventional gallery format. Utilizing discarded art shipping containers, Batey No. 4, an art collective based in Alpine, turned the old school bus into a gallery that displays ceramics and more. They have been participating in Artwalk since 2016. Many ceramics by Sul Ross professor Gregory Tegarden were on display, but Tegarden himself was down the street, live sculpting a planter out of clay in front of Big Bend Arts Council’s Gallery on the Square.

Sarah Sheffield of Batey No. 4, said she prefers the local, laid back arts culture in Alpine as opposed to the more international scene in Marfa and thinks distinctions often made between the two as immature versus professional are misled. 

“You have a lot of people here, this is their livelihood, but they’re not in a New York gallery nor do a lot of them want to be, that’s the thing too. So it’s a much more casual vibe,” said Sheffield. 

The down to earth style allows for a culture of sharing, and for the artists to have more connectivity to their work and those purchasing their work, said Sheffield. 

“Artists here are much more connected to their work than if they ship it off to the galleries and it just sits there and eventually gets bought. But here, we’re hawking our wares,” said Sheffield. 

Amanda Calhoun, an artist and member of Batey No. 4, echoed Sheffield’s sentiments and said it was refreshing to be back out in the community with the bus, seeing people’s reactions. 

“All these years doing this, you can feel the excitement and people seem to receive it really well, lots of smiles. It’s just a lot of fun, and it’s good to have the festivity back,” said Calhoun. 

At Kishmish Plaza, a handful of Sul Ross art students were set up to sell their artwork for the event. In addition to practicing the more pragmatic skills of tabling like money handling, students were also gaining valuable experience talking to strangers about their creative process.

Tamara Carrasco, who is originally from Ojinaga, is a junior at Sul Ross with a concentration in ceramics. She said she wants to be a ceramics professor when she graduates and was appreciative of the opportunity for exposure. 

“It’s just bigger than any other year before. I think it’s a way to get my name somewhere,” Carrasco said. 

Also posted up at Kishmish Plaza was Tim Roberts, this year’s honored artist — an Artwalk tradition which spotlights one local artist for the duration of the event. Roberts, who is from Fort Davis, works in a variety of mediums including oil paintings, drypoint etchings and linocut prints. Most notably, Roberts is a scratchboard artist, a relatively little-known art form which involves scratching away black ink from a piece of masonite board coated in white clay. 

The results have a 3D effect. Roberts’ subject matter is partly inspired by the region—his dayjob is regional archeologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife—and features starlit cantinas, railroad scenes and cityscapes. 

Roberts offered up a magnifying glass to viewers to encourage them to get up close to the scratchboard works, allowing for further appreciation of the hand skills involved in the niche process. Not for the easily deterred, Roberts said his scratchboard works can take months to complete and once finished are hard to let go of. 

“By the time you spend five months working on something like that, especially if it’s something you really enjoy, it’s hard to turn it loose. So I may be my own biggest collector of my artwork,” Roberts laughs. 

Alpine-based band the Doodlin’ Hogwallops played country music on the Budweiser stage well into the afternoon as a few brave souls graced the dance floor and spectators sat devouring hotdogs and tapping their cowboy boots to familiar songs “Lady Bird” and “Meet Me in Midland.”