Five years ago, an all-volunteer army laid siege to the Miller Air Conditioning building in Lampasas, a Hill Country town of about 7,000. Armed with paint and brushes and scaffolding, they transformed a nondescript brick wall into a piece of art.
Set against a sky-blue background, an eagle with a 25-foot wingspan soars above the parking lot. The patriotic mural honors public servants such as first responders, veterans and the military. The business owner, Tim Miller, says visitors fill his parking lot on weekends, posing for selfies.
“It’s unreal. We can’t even park next to the building,” Miller said. “This wall is probably photographed ten to fifteen times every Saturday. When I’m driving by, I see 30 to 40 motorcycles in front of the mural, people taking pictures.”
The “Patriot” mural is just one of 13 that volunteers have painted during the past decade on buildings both downtown and on major through routes. A two-story wall bedecked with colorful cowboy boots celebrates noted Lampasas boot makers, recognized across Texas and beyond. A half-block long warehouse near downtown is decorated with “Postcards From Lampasas,” a mural that showcases several nearby historical landmarks. And “Small Town Big Sound” honors local musicians such as Terry McBride with a giant purple and gold guitar, a saxophone player, and a keyboard that trails into the background.
The impetus to paint the town not just red, but blue, green, yellow, orange and many other hues, shades and tints, was imported from Red Wing, Minn., by longtime resident Katherine Mezger. Having grown up in Red Wing, she fondly recalls the murals there and figured Lampasas could emulate their success. Eleven years later, you can grab a map at the Chamber of Commerce and spend hours cruising from one mural to the next.
Mezger said the murals have attracted folks from as far away as New York.
“We painted and they came ... to enjoy, take photos, recall a time, place, or event,” Mezger said. “Whether it’s music or patriotism, history or whimsy, it makes our little town stand out in a crowd.”
The Lampasas mural project has garnered attention from nationwide and state media, and earned the Community Champions award from the city.
The group responsible for this small town, grassroots renaissance is called Vision Lampasas, a non-profit that relies on fundraisers and donations.
Ron Ischy, a masonry contractor and lifelong Lampasas resident, several times donated the use of his scaffolding because he didn’t like the “girls” climbing on ladders to paint.
“These ladies, they need to be able to get up there and work and feel safe, so we build them a scaffold,” Ischy said. “Everything needs to go towards those girls. They need to be complimented. Hot days. Cold days. They’re working. They put a lot into it.”
One scorching summer day the paint was so thick and sticky it was like painting with marshmallows.
Painting outdoor murals on various surfaces — wood, stone, stucco — has been challenging. They painted one building that was constructed in the 1930s. Although business owners pay nothing to have a mural painted on their building, they’re responsible for prep work such as repairing flaking stucco or applying a primer.
The art group of mostly women has adopted a paint-by-number approach. Anyone, regardless of talent, can grab a brush and jump in. And volunteers come from unlikely places. One volunteer while assigned to jury duty noticed that a man doodling on a scratch pad showed some artistic talent. He was recruited and is now the specialist at painting faces. And one day, a curious welder dropped by to watch and soon joined the painting party. His steady hand was discovered and he was assigned script work.
And although some buildings are two stories high and up to 50-feet long, rollers and spray guns are not allowed. Volunteers use mostly small brushes, one inch wide or less.
Volunteers have painted two murals in one year, but that’s not something they want to do again.
“Our husbands wanted to know if they need to bring a cot and a pillow down because we usually don’t come home till after dark, and then get up early in the morning and paint,” Libby Bluntzer, Vision Lampasas president, said. “Sometimes we’ll paint maybe 12 hours.”
The murals cost about $2,000 each, compared to spending about $9,000 to pay a professional.
Although you can see some of the murals such as the one honoring the 1950s cruising and drive-in culture without stopping, you would miss the attention to detail the painters have included. For example, the giant guitar has six, long wires stretched from the top of the neck to the bridge to represent guitar strings. Little critters such as horned frogs are often hiding in plain sight.
Although Vision Lampasas now uses expensive paint made especially for murals and a protective coating to mitigate fading from the Texas sun, their original mural is showing the effects of almost a dozen summers. But volunteers are now repainting The Boot Roundup because it has almost “gone ghost.”
When that project is complete, Vision Lampasas has enough buildings and ideas to keep members busy for a while.
“There’s still lots of walls. We’re not running out of walls,” Bluntzer said. “We think everybody ought to have one.”