Jon Mark Beilue: 'Public art is for everybody'

Jon Mark Beilue Jun 30, 2021
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Jon Mark Beilue: 'Public art is for everybody'

Photo: Margaret and Allen Tusing of Palmetto, Fla., take in a new mural recently unveiled in the Derrick Room in Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. The work was painted by students in West Texas A&M University's Rural Mural Project.


WT’s Rural Mural Project brings abstract art to the people


If Jon Revett had unlimited supplies, unlimited time and unlimited budget, he would lead the charge to have a mural painted in every town in the 26 counties of the Texas Panhandle.

Something expressive, something specific, something eye-catching.

“I’ve envisioned this for a long time, driving to Dallas and having murals all the way through, putting murals in the tiniest of towns,” Revett said. “That would be something.”

West Texas A&M’s art program director and associate professor of painting and drawing may not get them all, but Revett and his art undergraduate and graduate students have certainly had a full last few months painting murals in Stratford, Plainview and in the Derrick Room of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon.

Combined, that’s approximately 42 feet by 250 feet of abstract art that took 700 man hours to go from blank spaces to geometric designs that left the curious public satisfied and an array of artists fulfilled.

“I absolutely love it,” said Laurie Spurlock, a board member of Imagination Station, the building on 202 N. Main St. in Stratford that sports WT’s latest work. “I think it will be a staple, a little feature of our community.”

It was certainly labor for Revett and his students, and it is probably not too hokey to say it was a labor of love, or at least projects with passion. The uniqueness of the art form makes the work fresh and different.

“Public art is for everybody,” Revett said. “At one time I worked for Stanley Marsh 3, and I worked on the Cadillac Ranch and some of his other works. Public art is ingrained in my persona. I’m a painter to the end — I’ll have a studio the rest of my life — but painting can be a very solitary existence. This is for everyone to enjoy. It’s so much more gratifying – it really is, without a doubt.”

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum had an open area on the first floor for some time, and there was a need to somehow fill it. Museum staff tossed around ideas, but until the spring, discussion was all it had been.

“We had been staring at this giant hole in the wall in the Derrick Room for years,” said Buster Ratliff, the museum’s interim associate director. “We’d broached the subject several times, but never pulled the trigger on it. Finally, we decided to do this mural, and let that be the center of it.”

They didn’t have to look further than WT and Canyon, where Revett has finished more than 20 murals, including one in Canyon at Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street. In discussion with him, museum staff, including interim executive director Heather Friemel and marketing director Stephanie Price, wanted the mural to show the diversity of the region and the museum’s collection as well as the Panhandle and its people.

“What we started out to what we have is two completely different things,” Ratliff said. “But he answered the questions we had and did exactly what we set forth in a very abstract kind of way.”

Artists being artists, they often see what others do not.

“The way an artist looks at a museum is not the same as the way a museum person looks at a museum, and to me, it’s exciting how others view it,” Ratliff said.


Photo: Rural Mural Project students Justin Roger, Loc Dao, Matthew Winton, Ana Ramirez, May Truong and Eva Herrera began work in March on a mural in Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum's Derrick Room.


Revett kept coming back to circles – lots of circles in the museum. Windmills, wheels on cars, sunsets, paintings. Like history, circles have a connection with a beginning and an end. Revett took inspiration from the work of Giotto, a 14th-century artist from Florence, Italy, whom Pope Benedict IX commissioned to paint the perfect circles at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Abstraction is open-ended,” Revett said. “Everyone looking at abstract art can get something different out of it.”

As with all the murals, Revett planned and designed the abstract, and art students, usually around 10, began the work on the 12 x 40 mural. There are complete or parts of 70 circles with geometric designs within each one in reflective paint.

Work began before spring break in March and was finished for a May unveiling. A three-minute video plays on a TV screen mounted next to the mural, letting visitors know how it was created.

“(The mural) has a little bit of shimmer to it,” Ratliff said. “It’s a reflection of what the Panhandle is and who we are. In art like this, we should see ourselves so that’s what it becomes in this very abstract way. It’s not what we envisioned, but once we saw it and saw people’s reaction to it, we would not want it any other way.”

Some imagination at Imagination Station

Spurlock heard Revett speak at a WT event on the mural he and his students painted at the LaRita Theater in Dalhart in 2014. She liked what she heard, and cornered him afterward.

“What would it take to do our building?” she asked.

Revett ran some numbers. Spurlock took them back to the Imagination Station’s non-profit foundation. The foundation gave approval. Revett’s Rural Mural Project was set to head to Stratford. Then COVID hit in Spring 2020.

Revett returned this past April, and the work began in earnest. Imagination Station is a non-profit that brings arts and hands-on exhibits and activities to the Stratford community since 1992.

“We could have painted a grain elevator or something like that to reflect the Stratford economy,” Revett said, “but there are grain elevators right down the way if people wanted to see one that’s better than we could do.”

The very name of the building, at one time a car dealership, lent to something creative and not ordinary. Revett still wanted a Stratford touch. He looked at the architecture at the high school. He brought out the blue school color of the Elks and the green of John Deere. He also enlisted some help of local Stratford students and others in the community.

Stratford’s size was the most daunting. It was about 150 feet long, half the size of a football field, and 15 feet high. The finished work is a kaleidoscope of designs and colors meant to stand out in any rural setting.


Photo: Imagination Station, 202 N. Main St. in Stratford, is home to one of West Texas A&M University's Rural Mural Project's newest works.


Those in the Rural Mural Project made the 95-mile trip to Stratford six times. Often it rained when they were there, putting the painting on pause or stopping all together.

“Farmers loved us,” Revett said, “because every time we showed up, it rained.”

The muralists were provided not just help, but cookies, brownies, casseroles and other sustenance from the Imagination Station board because man does not create on an empty stomach.

“I felt sorry for them,” Spurlock said, “because there was nothing open at night. They probably thought we were wacko, but that’s what we do in Stratford.”

“We were treated like rock stars,” Revett said.

At roughly the same time, the Rural Mural Project completed a 15 x 60 mural at the Contemporary Art Museum in Plainview at the request of Kelly Allison, its executive director and founder. It was completed during finals week from May 3-10.

“A mural is for the people,” Revett said. “It’s not a product. It’s not for sale. A mural is not a return investment. The investment is a social one.”

The next rural mural will be in Canadian. After that, likely something somewhere.

“Painting is usually a singular art form, but murals are collaborative,” Revett said. “That’s one of the biggest differences. The challenge for me is in the designing because painting and murals work differently. Then there’s managing 10 students to make sure they’re working and happy.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at