If sandhill cranes could take a selfie, what would it look like? One artist’s interpretation is the newest mural to spring up in the city. Egan Ulbricht finished the painting recently on the north side of the Michael Olguin Insurance Associates building at San Miguel and California Streets.
Socorro has a long history of murals, but many of them have not fared well. The Socorro Beautification Committee, now called Diamond in the Desert, is working hard to ensure that these murals are enjoyed for decades to come.
The mural project began a couple of years ago. “When I came here I was interested in how to beautify the city,” said Beth Wells, committee chair. True to her word, she reached out to members of the Socorro Beautification Committee, revitalizing the dormant group.
Now its own non-profit, the committee began by looking back to a mural painted years ago by Socorro English and art teacher Eleanor Wolf Oliver and her students. The mural, depicting the first encounter of the Spanish and Native Americans, was destroyed when the Post Office wall had to be removed.
The original, full-sized design on paper was stretched out on the floor at Finley Gym, recalled Wells recently. Colleen Gino, Chamber of Commerce director and a professional photographer, took pictures of the design. Socorro’s Ken Hines painted it on the wall. Hines also is credited with painting the Bull Durham sign on the Manzanares Building; and his subsequent mural on the south wall facing the Firs State Bank parking lot. “Searching for an Oasis” features the characters in a children’s story he wrote.
Other local artists have contributed over the years. Erika Burleigh’s coffee murals for years have intrigued tourists and residents coming into the plaza. She is also credited with painting the Lonnie Zamora mural tribute on Fairgrounds Road and with a smaller mural on a downtown home. And she led a Community Arts Project which painted an athletic-themed mural at Finley Gym.
Late last year, Loretta Lowman’s mural celebrating Socorro’s history and helping nature took form on a City Hall wall. Chosen by the committee with public input, Lowman’s is a hit with the public. “I love her mural,” said Karyn DeBont, board member who was active in the original committee as well. “She was so open to the committee’s suggestions,” DeBont said. “I love the vibrant colors she added.”
A small but thoughtful mural titled “Searching for the Light” on the north side of the Masonic Lodge at Leroy and Bullock was the result of a contest through New Mexico Tech. The university paid to have the mural painted, Wells said.
A postcard of Socorro, designed by the second winner of the Tech contest, appeared along a channel wall to the west side of California Street. Wells herself painted that mural.
Another new mural with a cowboy theme has now been installed at the rodeo grounds. That mural begun and completed by Vicky Gonzales was also a community arts project. Gonzales is also working on a mural for the John Brooks building.
Other murals are looking for a home. Adrianna Carilli has painted an image of Our Lady of Socorro on an 8 x 8 ft plywood. DeBont, a committee member, said she had seen a mural painting on plywood and attached to a brick building in Leadville, Co. “It’s interesting,” DeBont said. However, attaching something to adobe is a different matter and could damage the building, Well learned.
All in all, in the two years since Wells brought her energies to enriching the community, there have been eight new murals completed with the cooperation of businesses and individual donations.
That’s an impressive accomplishment. But Wells gives “all the credit to the beautification committee. I have done a lot of community outreach and non-profit work, and I have never seen any more hard working,” she said.
Along with Wells, committee board members are Jon Morrison, Karyn DeBont, Vicky Gonzales, Colleen Gino, Edie Steinhoff and Linda Wilson. Others on the committee are Barbara Popp, Judy Lovelace, Cari Powell, Joy and Leon Miler and Chelsea Lyons. Community members and civic clubs have donated generously to fund the projects including Rotary Club of Socorro, Ace Hardware, Don and Rosie Tripp, Ted Kase, Addy Bhasker, Rosalind Zengerle and Betty Houston. “So many wonderful people!” Wells said.
The original beautification committee landscaped the medians and concentrated on flowers. “We’re looking at how to add flowers and trees along the sides of California,” Wells said. One challenge is that California Street is a state road and comes under state rules which limit trees. Another is that many of the original containers with flowers were stolen or destroyed. But Wells has an idea to remedy that.
The committee is interested in “all projects that contribute to community pride and tourism,” Wells said.