Many small towns in America are struggling for survival. The recent economy is one factor, but a bigger one is our cultural and economic shift to an urban lifestyle. Family farms are bought out by land developers and agribusiness. Young people leave home for greater opportunity. Businesses are shuttered and closed. Streets are empty. But there is much of value in small town life, and some places making a valiant effort to survive and prosper once more. Oakridge, a town near my own home, is taking advantage of close-by recreational opportunities, and striving to market itself as a mountain biking mecca. Many towns are encouraging tourism through the fostering of the arts. Ashland, near the border of Oregon and California, is renowned for its annual Shakespeare Festival.
As we travelled recently, we noticed that murals seem to be quite the rage, at least in the small towns of the Western U.S. The theme of most was the history of the area: natural history, human stories, and livelihoods past and present. The hope is to add a further attraction for tourists: to come and see the beautiful murals. Here are is just a small fraction of the murals that we saw recently:
This is a detail of a monumentally huge mural on the Edison Building in Lindsay, California, celebrating the American worker in Central California.
Some of the murals were much smaller, and very pretty, as in this one featuring the natural landscape of the area. It is also in Lindsay, California.
This detail of a large mural is in the rural mountain town of Tehachapi and features the first residents of the land. Many of the other murals here represented the railroad history of the vicinity, as well as the fruit orchards, aircraft and ranching legacies.
This mural in Lindsay was also very large, encompassing the entire side of the building. This segment is about 1/3 of the total painting. The artist envisioned the prehistoric landscape of that very spot, with the foothills dusted with snow, and native animals long vanished from the area. This was the only mural we looked at anywhere which had some vandalism to it. Folks in the town generally seemed to take great pride in these works of public art.
An interesting mural by muralist Wei Huang featured the addition of a real flagpole and flag, as well as chunks of concrete and metal beams in the foreground. It commemorates the events of September 11 and honors the many who died there. The town of Lindsay lights the flag at night, and it is an impressive sight. The mural is very large.
Many of the local schools in the towns featured murals created by students. Small businesses got into the spirit as well with both professionally painted and homegrown folk art murals. This small, charming piece is decorates the side wall of a veterinarian’s office in downtown Weed.
All of the artwork served to enliven and brighten and give a sense of hope and pride to the town. I think it is a wonderful trend.