Murals on Old Buildings' Walls Worth a Roadtrip



Murals like this one in Mount Pleasant are often favorite photo-taking backdrops

Splashing some paint — colors, words, and pictures — on exterior walls of buildings sends a message, serves a purpose.

These murals and so-called “ghost signs” stand as silent reminders of the life cycles of towns and cities throughout East Texas. Visitors crook their necks and notice them immediately and townsfolk, so used to seeing them, notice if they disappear. 

Some murals and advertisements represent an age gone by — days when moon pies were every kid’s delight and horses were the only mode of travel. Some express modern-day messages — “Welcome to our friendly town” or “You’ll love it here.” Some offer the element of mystery. Several decades old and weathered just beyond recognition, they fade back into the brick and mortar that pre-dated the paint itself.

“Sometimes these old paintings, even if they’re faded after decades, can be some of the most memorable landmarks in small towns,” said Derek Price, a leader in the Hunt County Public Art initiative. “They’re part of what we remember about growing up in a place, and I think they’re worth preserving even in their faded, ghostly state. They have a charm that can’t be recreated.”

 

Price and his team are on a mission to bring outside art to Greenville and so he supports new murals as well as preservation of the old. 

“Contemporary murals are even more exciting because they say something about life right now. They add energy and vitality to a city.”

San Augustine doesn’t have murals, but some there have taken up the cause. Tracy Cox, manager of the Main Street program, said the town offers so much history that could be depicted: home of the first state governor, Sam Houston’s home, first university, and nationally recognized 300-year-old Mission Dolores.

“We would like to do murals because we are proud of our heritage,” Cox said.   

Whether newly unveiled or confined to history, the region’s murals do have many stories to tell. 

Two of Mount Pleasant’s murals suggest a time when both Dr Pepper and Bull Durham chewing tobacco were huge sellers. Ben Wheeler is the site promoting Royal Crown Cola and moon pies. 

Only a 5-cent sign remains outside a building in Clarksville. “I want to say it was a Coca-Cola advertisement,” said Laura Dial, Red River County Chamber of Commerce.

Other mural messages make bold statements. Side walls of storefronts in Canton, Greenville, and Jefferson celebrate the special characteristics of those towns.

A large free-standing mural in Lufkin depicts the early days of logging in East Texas. It measures more than 21 yards long and 10 feet high at the tallest point. 

Price encourages the continuation of installing murals and artwork. “It’s a ton of work, but it’s also one of the most rewarding and fun things a town can do,” he said.

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