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Roadside Artwork - The Colors of Tucson
By Judy Ruck

April 15, 1990, found me in Tucson spending Easter Sunday with my parents. After a hearty meal, I persuaded my father to take me on a ride through the older sections of the city and was able to find several murals all with their own stories to tell.

This is mainly the southern and western areas of Tucson. My ulterior motive was to locate painted wall murals done by the local artists. Murals, I am told, are the great egalitarian art form; inexpensive to paint, free to view and available to all. They will allow the observer to view a small piece of Anglo, Indian and Mexican cultures.

Almost fifteen years later, I came across the assortment of pictures taken so long ago. I wondered if any of the original murals remain. I started at the El Rio Neighborhood Center at 1390 W. Speedway. The six remaining murals are just as vibrant in color as they were nearly fifteen years ago.

They document and celebrate the Chicano movement and its effect on the Tucson's Hispanic community. View the mural painted in 1976 by local Tucson artist David Tineo. It is titled The Book and the Hop of Our Race." It shows a woman with wings clutching a book with an eagle and a serpent, symbols of Mexico.

All About Hair, formerly known as the Hair Trend Salon, at 3477 S. 12th Ave. has a mural painted on the side of its building that portrays President Benito Juarez of Mexico. The mural was painted in 1981 by Luis Gustavo Mena. He also painted a shocking pink '54 Cadillac on the side wall of the 12th Ave. Desert Suds car wash located in the 4600 block of 12th Ave., between Ohio and Oklahoma Sts. The '54 Cadillac remains, just not as pink and vibrant as it once was.

Most of Tucson's murals are painted by someone from the Hispanic community, but one of great interest that still remains was painted by an Anglo. Farmer John's Meats, a former meat packing plant at Grant Road and Flowing Wells has an array of murals that surround the outer and inner buildings and have withstood the elements. Painted in the early '60's by the late Leslie Allen Grimes, a Hollywood set designer, it shows cowboys lassoing cattle under a western sky, with snorting bulls and a ranch house in the back.

Mural Assortment Changing

I quickly determine many of the murals originally seen in 1990 either have been painted over or in some instances, the buildings no longer exist.

Continuing down Congress at Sixth Ave., there is an ongoing jam session observed in a mural painted on the side of the Chicago Music Company. Apparently it was a Safford Middle School project painted in the early '90's. No one at the school was able to add any additional information.

In 2000, Luis Gustavo Mena painted a mural on a wall adjacent to the Radisson Hotel City Center located at 181 W. Broadway. It is a picture of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, accompanied by his men as he set off from Mexico in 1540 in his search for the seven cities of gold, only to later discover it was all a myth.

'True Chicano Muralist' by Mena will soon be published by Arizona State University.

Joshua Sarantitis and William Wilson are two muralists who have recently completed The Barrio Anita Project. This project has been a labor of love that has extended over two year to completion. Eight months of workshops and meeting with residents helped formulate the final design. The mural honors everyone from the neighborhood. It is 350' in length and 20' tall and is located on the east side of Interstate 10 and Contzen Avenue, north of St. Mary's. The area appears to be a peaceful place to visit. Sitting at one of the tables under the ramada will allow people to truly enjoy the story the mural has to tell.

There are over a hundred murals throughout the city waiting to be found and currently no printed guide or map available to help one find these wonders of art. Stop at the Visitor's Center located at the corner of Church Street and Broadway and get a free city map. Then do as I did fifteen years ago. Drive around, find a mural, stop and take a picture. Drive on until you find the next one.



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