I arrived in Tonkawa for the first mural project community meeting on March 28th. Before the meeting, as people flowed into the conference room at the First National Bank, I looked around at a gallery of panoramic photographs of Three Sands oil filed and the town that sprang up around it in the 1920's. Back then Tonkawa was known as the "Billion Dollar Spot," due to the discovery of these incredible oil reserves. Today, although you can still see a few oil pumps churning away south of town, the skyline of derricks that used to dominate the horizon and the bustling town around them are all but gone.
By two o'clock there was a crowd of about thirty people ready for my presentation, which is basically a fifteen minute history of murals from the cave paintings in Lascaux to Giotto to Rivera to the New Deal post office murals and finally to the contemporary community mural movement beginning with the "Wall of Respect" in Chicago, followed by a brief overview of the development of my murals and how I go about choreographing their design and execution.
After the slide show and a break where we all had a chance to get some cookies and punch, we reassembled and I asked the audience to share with me how they envisioned the mural at this early stage in the process. I wrote their comments on a flip-pad as they spoke: wheat heart, Cherokee Strip Land Run, Tonkawa Tribe, state football champions, Three Sands, the Heart in the Park Labyrinth, the Chikaskia and Salt Fork Rivers, and the POW camp began the list. It was clear right away that Tonkawa was rich with a layered, interwoven, and deeply felt cultural history, and that residents (at least the ones who came to this meeting) were engaged in an ongoing dialogue about how that history was preserved and told, and how it influenced the identity of the place they lived in today.
The meeting ended with a few of us, including Audrey Schmitz and Ken Crowder, walking down Grand St. to look at potential walls for the mural. There were three or four excellent spots, but we all seemed to agree that Tonkawas's first outdoor mural might have the biggest impact on a wall (seen below) at the intersection of Main and Grand, home to Tonkawa's lone stoplight.