Much is made of the town of Marfa in West Texas as being this artistic enclave where one can go to find themselves out in the expanse of the open desert, and it’s received renewed attention since Miranda Lambert dragged Jon Randall and Jack Ingram out there to record a scratch track album called The Marfa Tapes released earlier this year.
But many who’ve made the side trip off of Interstate 10 down Hwy 90 will tell you the town of Alpine just east of Marfa is just as cool, if not more, and if for no other reason than the great murals that can be found in the town of 6,000. And recently, a new mural was unveiled on the side of the Printco building at the corner of 5th and Murphy. Facing downtown and right by the Amtrack station, the mural pays tribute to Texas music, and specifically many of the Lone Star State’s country heroes.
Commissioned by the non-profit Alpine Artwalk organization, and painted by renowned muralist Stylle Read, the mural is a portrayal of many of the Texas musicians that put the state on the musical map.
“My original idea was just to have something up there as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement to The Beatles, because I’m a big Beatles fan,” says Joe Esparza, who owns the Printco building and business in Alpine with his wife Betse. “I wanted it to mimic the Sgt. Pepper album cover.”
But it soon became something more.
“Every couple of years the Alpine Artwalk gets together to raise a bunch of money to have a mural done by Stylle Read,” explains Joe Esparza. “Obviously, every mural is different. When I was ready to build my own building, I got in touch with Keri Blackman of Alpine Artwalk, who is a friend of mine ever since I’ve been here for over 20 years now, and said, ‘Hey, you can have my north wall of the building for a mural.’ She asked, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘I want a tribute to music. I want a tribute to Texas music.'”
Mock ups were done, first in a sketch, then with images of the respective artists the Alpine Artwalk folks discussed, and soon the mural came to life. It was finished near the start of August.
Stylle Read is no stranger to working in the medium of music. Born in Lufkin, TX to painter Sleepy Read, and raised in Tyler and Fort Worth, in the late 70’s Stylle found his calling painting Western scenes on the sides of vans. He then graduated to emblazoning the sides of the tour buses of country music greats with Western murals, including Hank Williams Jr. and others.
“No pun intended, but Stylle put his style to it.” says Joe Esparza. “There’s an Amtrack right here next to the railroad tracks that parks here twice a day. People will get off the train and come over to take pictures. Any given moment I can walk around, and there’s somebody standing out there taking a picture, talking about it, and trying to name who is who.”
You might want to play the game at home too (see bigger pictures below). The mural includes:
Bob Wills • George Strait • Selena • Waylon Jennings • Willie Nelson • ZZ Top • The Flatlanders • Buddy Holly • Janis Joplin • Buck Owens • Jerry Jeff Walker • Omar and the Howlers • Robert Earl Keen • Roy Orbison • Stevie Ray Vaughn • Townes Van Zandt • Kris Kristofferson • Charley Pride • George Jones • Ernest Tubb • Blind Lemon Jefferson • Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown • Cody Johnson • Gary P. Nunn • DJ Screw • Flaco Jimenez • Freddy Fender • Guy Clark • Kevin Fowler • Lightnin’ Hopkins • Lydia Mendoza • Lyle Lovett • Miranda Lambert • Pantera • Ray Wylie Hubbard • Ray Price • Randy Rogers • Roky Erickson • Sly Stone • Tanya Tucker • Van Cliburn
It’s a pretty incredible list of names, and really helps to illustrate the breadth of important musicians from the Lone Star State, and not just from the country genre. But of course—like with anything—you can point to a few names that could have also been included. In fact, that’s what the paper in San Antonio chose to focus on with their coverage of the mural, making their point with angry Twitter posts asking where folks like Beyonce and Emilio Navaira were, as opposed to appreciating that someone took the time and effort to make the mural in the first place—and despite the work being country-centric—making sure to represent a wide variety of music and ethnic backgrounds.
“It was the [Alpine Artwalk] board who decided who was going to go up there. And they tried to go across the board as far as genres,” says Joe Esparza. “You could say most genres are represented, but it’s more heavily towards country. We weren’t necessarily trying to make a statement with it. We weren’t trying to leave out the San Antonio and Houston areas. It was just a mural I wanted on my wall. I like music. I love all kinds of music. I wasn’t trying to alienate anybody. 95% plus of the feedback has been positive.”
And now folks traveling through Alpine have another destination point. And the public art piece is not done just yet.
“Here pretty quick we’re gonna start work on a patio out in front of the mural that leads to the bottom of the mural where people can sit, and it’s going to be shaped like a guitar, and the fretboard leads out to the sidewalk of the street.”
They plan to have the project completed by the Artwalk 2021 Arts and Music Festival in Alpine, November 19th and 20th.
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photos by Joe Esparza