AND AFTER ALL…YOU’RE MY WONDER WALL.

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Man. I was filled with some civic PRIDE last week.

First Wendy Davis, and now this!

As many of you know, I have a long and unrequited love affair with Hyde Park. And I am sorry to say this, but there’s a new, gorgeous work of public art there that doesn’t help matters. Doesn’t help at all.

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Three years in the works, the Shipe Park Mosaic Mural – stretching across the pump building at Shipe Park Pool – just received its last sparkling tile a few weeks ago. It was a collaboration between Griffin School Director Adam Wilson, and local artists Holli Brown and Pascal Simon.

I met all three at the park last week, where we had some mural talk.

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“The wall was basically just a big blank space, and kept attracting graffiti,” said Adam, who helped spearhead the project. He’s not kidding about blank – here it is in progress, where you can see the old wall.

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Photo courtesy Wendy Morgan

So he decided to take a shot on a small grant from the City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department. Adam, Holli, and Pascal put together a proposal for an iddy biddy mosaic mural, just covering a few square feet of the wall.

“They told us they were interested – but asked if we could make it bigger!” said Adam. Holli and Pascal got to work, and drew up a brand new design: This time covering the whole wall.

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(Holli and Pascal’s new and improved design)

They scored the grant, and raised the rest of the funds with the help of Friends of Shipe Park. And! They built the actual mural itself with the help of kids and parents from all over Austin.

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Photo courtesy Wendy Morgan

It was cool interviewing Adam, Holli and Pascal at the pool itself, because I got to see first-hand the effect it has on people. A little girl kept jumping out of the water and running over to it, to point out new discoveries to her mom.

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The wall is sort of like an enormous Where’s Waldo?, filled with little quirky details that Austin locals created. A flying pig, a guy in a parachute, a robot. There was this one guy at the pool, Ray, who walked over and ran his hands along the wall – just like the little girl.

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Ray and I talked for a while. I found out that he worked for the Military Defense Fund, but you can tell – this guy is an artist. He collects discarded tiles from glass stores, and made his own little mural for his door at home. He keeps a menagerie of animals, including lots of turtles, and built a stone-and-succulent-filled wonderland for them in the backyard. (I mean, how cute is that.)

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This detail in particular touched me. A long time ago, before Highland Mall was a ghost town, Ray was there running an errand. He came across a great big painting in one of the shops, one so beautiful he said, that he told himself:

“When I buy my first home, I WILL put that painting on the wall.”

So he bought it on the spot. A motivator of sorts.

Several years later, Ray and his wife found a condo on east 51st that was in shambles. His wife was all, “really? No. I’m not living here.”

But, Ray couldn’t stop imagining his painting on the wall. Or the condo all fixed up around it. So Ray talked his wife into it, and put down an offer that day (no buyer’s guilt for this man). They moved in immediately.

Now, Ray and his wife live adjacent to the gleaming new Mueller District, and their condo is fixed up perfectly. His painting hangs proudly on the wall.

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I’m pretty sure that the point of public art is to spark conversation. All that knit-tagging that went on last year. The “Play Me, I’m Yours” pianos before that. And now this wall, with its tactile surface and scattered hidden treasures. They are novelties, these open oddities, free to appreciate and communal in their enjoyment.

But the side effect of public art is that it makes people feel cared for. That someone made something beautiful for them to look at – just because.

The lifeguard blew his whistle to indicate the pool was closing, and all the kids swam to the sides to hop out. I said goodbye to Ray, and he gave me a friendly wave, the one hand gesturing in my direction, the other still lingering on the wall, still picking out new details.

  • http://www.freefuninaustin.com Heidi

    Seriously amazing photos. Beautiful.