Sometimes murals are found where least expected — inside the children’s area of a small-town public library, strategically placed inside a school for gifted children or across the exterior back wall of a children’s museum facing a street not heavily traveled.
Smith County, Texas, is such a place.
Because of their out-of-the-way locations, the large-scale murals in this story are hidden treasures rarely seen by the public. Nonetheless, each is beautiful and has a story to share.
Below are four secret murals of Smith County.
GARY ELEMENTARY MURAL
Located at 703 S. Chilton Ave., in Tyler, Gary Elementary School originally was built in 1908. In the early 1990s, when a portion of the school (which now houses programs for academically gifted elementary students) was remodeled, Mike Butler, architect of the project, commissioned Tyler artist Janelle Pollard to create a large mural on the south wall of the cafeteria.
Pollard had studied art at Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler and with several notable artists.
Pollard says that Butler and Vicki Neill, the principal, requested that she paint a beautiful garden scene. She worked from photos taken of a spring garden at 801 Troup Highway in Tyler, the home of her mother-in-law.
Pollard started painting on Aug. 15, 1993, and finished it two weeks later. She had to work under a very strict schedule because the mural had to be finished before the start of the school year.
In the style of a diptych (two separate flat plates attached by a hinge), she produced the mural in two pieces. Each painting is 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide. She applied acrylic paint to dried plaster.
Carpenters later built the wooden frame and grilles which provide an illusion of seeing the blooming garden by looking out a window.
— Jim Day
DISCOVERY SCIENCE PLACE MURAL
Titled “Peace Through Discovery,” this mural is on the south wall of Discovery Science Place, a children’s science museum at 308 N. Broadway Ave., in Tyler, Texas.
The 12-by-18-foot mural depicts a snapshot of the world, using a camera aperture as its inspiration.
“It’s a big eye on the world like a photo of the world, and then it brings in elements of discovery – binoculars, a magnifying glass, space, the world, ecology, history – it’s many of the different aspects of discovering the world,” the muralist, Kerian Massey of Ben Wheeler, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
The mural’s themes include growth, life cycles and phases of the moon.
“It’s touching on the different ideas of knowledge, growth and discovery. All of that brings us to peace. Once you can understand the world around you, it gives you a sense of peace,” Massey said at the time.
It took Massey and about 15 volunteers 100 hours to complete the mural.
— Danny Mogle
MUNTZ LIBRARY MURAL
In 2005, Alexis Serio, a professor of art at The University of Texas at Tyler, received a grant to paint a mural inside the university’s Robert Muntz Library.
According to the student newspaper, the Patriot Talon, “Serio designed the mural to capture the feel of an East Texas landscape, while giving it a modern spin, simulating German impressionist Franz Marc’s abstract style.
“The plaque to the left of the mural says that the mural depicts an abstraction of the animals of the East Texas landscape. Various shapes blend together to create new forms. Two abstracted longhorns sit in the landscape and are surrounded by flying birds and cyclical suns and moons. Warm and cool colors were used to create the illusion of daylight versus dusk – an an ever changing cycle in the landscape.”
It took Serio and undergraduate art students Michael Durham and Jodie Robbelke 80 hours to complete the project.
— Jim Day
LINDALE LIBRARY MURAL
Tracy O’Daniel was studying art at The University of Texas at Tyler and volunteering at the Lindale Library in 2004 when she painted the mural.
The mural is 18 feet long and extends from the floor to ceiling. She painted it around the risers in the children’s seating area.
O’Daniel included iconic characters from the stories of Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak that have had lasting recognition in children’s literature.
She was named the library’s volunteer of the year for her lasting contribution. After finishing her college studies, O’Daniel moved to Utah.
— Jim Day
Jim Day is an art historian who lives in Tyler. Danny Mogle is editor of IN Magazine.