Story by Samantha Corpus
Photos by Leesie Blaha, Infiniti Photo of College Station
Hours, days, months. That’s how long Sarah Norman and her daughter Katie Neason, co-founders of Renovation Wranglers, stared at the blank wall on West 31st Street in Downtown Bryan.
When Norman and Neason, both Bryanites born and raised, bought land in Downtown Bryan about two and a half years ago, they noticed the blank wall. They thought about painting a mural on the wall for months, but neither could agree what the mural would look like.
Neason started researching other cities with murals to see how they found artists and contracted them. When Neason came across a call for artists online that invited artists to submit what they wanted to paint, it clicked. That was how they were going to do it.
“It would be a way to get the community involved and local painters involved and to bring something to Downtown Bryan that we didn’t have … murals,” says Neason. “And when you go to other cities, it just provides a warmth and a comfort.”
Norman and Neason are not artists. Further, they didn’t know any artists, they didn’t know how to get it done, and they didn’t own the building. They started with the wall’s owner, Phillip Garrett of Conlee and Garrett Moving & Storage, for permission to paint on their building.
Soon after, the mother and daughter duo teamed up with the Downtown Bryan Association, part of whose mission it is to showcase the arts and culture of Bryan, and the Brazos Valley Art Council, which helped to spread the word to artists. They received 15 artist submissions, both local area and from around Texas.
“Downtown Bryan is a Texas Cultural District,” says Sandy Farris, executive director of the Downtown Bryan Association. “We’re one of about 30 cities in the state that have that designation, and that comes from the Texas Commission on the Arts. So, it is a pretty competitive process to go through and to get selected as a Cultural District.”
Cultural Districts are recognized parts of a city that have programs and a high concentration of cultural facilities, which serve as an attraction. They also help strengthen the local economy and expand on the cultural aspect of the city. Adding a mural that represents a city’s past and present would highlight the culture of the area.
Norman and Neason were able to recruit University Title Company, City Bank & Mortgage Company, Surplus Warehouse, Woodson Lumber & Hardware, Paint Warehouse, We Rent It, American Momentum Bank, and ExtraCo Bank as sponsors. Their company, Renovation Wranglers, matched the monies donated by the sponsors.
On May 30, five artists were chosen to each paint one 25-foot-by-18-foot mural across the wall on West 31st Street. Each artist received a stipend, but provided their own paint and art supplies. The mural theme is celebrating the city’s past or present, showcasing commerce, culture, and community. Each mural is 25 feet wide and 18 feet tall and are the first public art that has gone up in Downtown Bryan in four years.
“Whether they drive by it or walk down or whatever it may be, it doesn’t really matter as long as they see it, know it, and seek it,” says Norman. “Our goal is to make sure that they know it’s there to seek it out.”
Calina “Cal” Mishay
Calina “Cal” Mishay, 30, grew up in Rule, a small town north of Abilene and attended Texas Tech for a few years before moving and graduating from Midwestern University. Cal has been painting murals for a little over a year. Before that, she had mainly painted commissioned artworks for about six years. She would sit down with people to hear their story and try to connect it to things in her own life to paint a one-of-a-kind picture just for them. Working with individuals helped Cal learn how to work with cities and committees to create work that has a little piece of her, but that is ultimately about them.
After finishing school, she grew tired of her eight-to-five job and decided to take a risk on street art. Since then, she has been working with small towns to create murals. She brings her husband, an Air Force B-1 bomber pilot, to help paint large murals.
Cal has started to call her work “The Art” and defines it as layers, fun, colors, and something that allows the public to become a part of. “To me it’s like life,” says Cal. “It’s imperfect, but you find beauty in the imperfections. I don’t worry about mistakes … I just focus on the fact that it’s art, it should be felt, touched, everyone should feel like they’re a part of it, and make you happy.”
Cliff Collard, 43, grew up in Madisonville and would frequently visit Bryan College Station to go to the movies and go shopping. Today, he owns Arsenal Tattoo in Downtown Bryan and is a member of the Downtown Bryan Association. For as long as Collard can remember he has always enjoyed drawing and painting. While other kids eventually stopped doodling, he continued, his love for art growing.
The Downtown Bryan mural will be Collard’s fourth. The painting is a collage of founder William Joel Bryan, a train, a hot air balloon, an eagle, Texas, and more that represent Downtown Bryan. For inspiration, Collard looked at the turn of the century, around the time Bryan was founded.
“I think it’s a nice benefit for downtown,” says Collard. “It’s art that the whole community can enjoy. I just want to do something really cool and be able to show off what I can do, what I am able to do.”
Tyler Kay, 24, grew up moving around Texas and spent time in both the city and the countryside. She is currently attending the University of Houston working on a master’s degree in art leadership and studying financial management of nonprofit organizations and art law.
She is the director of Bisong Art Gallery in downtown Houston, and runs her own business, Tyler Kay Designs. Through her business, Tyler Kay works on mural projects for dance studios, the University of Houston campus, gyms, and restaurants. She also does custom commission work.
Tyler Kay has been painting murals professionally for the past four years. She began with painting murals in the homes of her relatives. Four years ago, she painted her first large-scale mural at J-Dance Company in South Houston.
“I love doing large scale,” says Tyler Kay. “It’s interesting that other artists have told me that they can’t visualize to that scale, and for me I can just look at the wall and see the composition. I just really enjoy painting on this scale. I feel confined when I work on a canvas actually, because I just like going big.”
Tyler Kay describes her style as hyperrealism and says she loves to paint florals. For this mural project, Tyler Kay draws from her inspiration of Texas wildflowers and plans to paint various hyper-realistic Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets. Overlaid will be a patterned and worn ribbon travelling horizontally across the wall with “Old Bryan” written on it. Going left to right, the ribbon will wrap around various flowers in the center and fade into a newer looking ribbon that depicts an image of current Bryan.
Mick Burson, 27, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but is originally from Waco. He took part in the Navasota Artists in Residence program two years ago. In seven years, Burson has painted about 100 murals. Growing up, Burson started as a graffiti artist and even painted freight trains for few years. After that, he decided to move into the public realm to paint walls for people.
Burson uses his own visual language when painting murals. By observing the architecture of a building and nature surrounding it, Burson finds a way to combine them into an abstract form of art. For the project, Burson plans to paint a bookshelf that encompasses the entirety of the wall, and within the spaces of the shelves will be indirect representations of language, the environment, and animals.
“Drawing for me is just kind of like a meditative experience,” says Burson. “I’m able to kind of just get out of my own head and process everything I’ve learned up to that point.”
View Burson’s work on Instagram @mickburson.
Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Sarah Blackmon, 28, moved to Bryan about two years ago with her husband. Blackmon began painting murals her senior year of high school for her church. Besides murals, Blackmon also paints in mixed media using acrylic, oil, and pencil.
Blackmon artwork tends to have vibrant, bright, happy colors and is feminine with many botanicals. Her Bryan mural encompasses icons that represent Bryan and also are meaningful to Blackmon: The LaSalle Hotel, the Queen Theatre, and the vintage Downtown Bryan clock. The mural also includes other iconic images: a cowboy hat for Catalena Hatters, chocolates for the Chocolate Gallery, a cup of coffee from Harvest, the Proudest Monkey logo, a cotton field, a calf, a deer, and a bouquet of wildflowers. She will also include a train and a wagon wheel to represent old Bryan.
“This design all just came from my imagination, just thinking of what I think would look good and unique, but also represent Bryan and the state of Texas,” says Blackmon.
About the Photographer
Leesie Blaha, owner of Infiniti Photo of College Station and a Bryan native, is providing volunteer photography services to publish weekly progress pictures on Facebook in order to update the community throughout the completion of the West 31st Street Murals Project.