Starting with a Dream
Text and Photos by Lara Hartley
It takes a village to enrich a village. Barstow, Calif. is the village. And it all started with a dream.
The legend on the mural reads:
“Route 66 has always been for dreamers. That’s how Main Street Murals got started."
Julliette Tison, founding president of Main Street Murals, dreamed of a mural program that would revitalize Main Street and educate viewers about the rich history and natural wonders of our Mojave Desert.
Local residents are involved in every aspect; from historical research, measuring walls, contacting property owners and city personnel, to renderings and the final mural.
Many of the murals have been “Mural-in-a-Day” or youth program projects where volunteers from the community work under the direction of a master artist. This develops civic pride and potential mural artists.
The children in our elementary schools held a contest and helped in naming the jack rabbit that appears in each mural. Be sure to look for “Dusty Rusty” in his many forms.
There are regular mural tours, both walking and special [occasions], usually on the last saturday of the month.
We thank you for being part of our Route 66 dream and hope you’ll share what you’ve found here.
For questions or information, call the Desert Discovery Center at 760-252-6060.
— Master artists: Kathy Fierro and Juliette Tison, 2016.
Along with the community of Barstow, nationally known artists have also contributed to the art scene with paintings on a few businesses not affiliated with the Main Street Mural Program. These include Lee Jackson, who has studios in Solana Beach, Calif., and Jacksonville, Florida.
“[I go … ] back and forth — been working with same three artists for many, many years”, said Jackson. “We travel extensively [and] enjoy seeing new places."
Jackson said he doesn’t advertise. “It’s word of mouth only.”
Main Street Murals also attracted the attention of an English visitor, Jane Laraman-Brockhurt, director of the Desert Discovery Center on Barstow Road in Barstow.
“I first saw the murals in Barstow while I was traveling,” she said. “I was doing a five-state tour. I happened to stop in Barstow and saw the murals and thought they were rather attractive.
“It's kind of interesting we ended up in this area and getting involved in the art program, the mural program,” she said.
“They are multi-function; they build community pride. Hopefully we are building a young community of kids who are interested in art and it does help to deter blight. And it makes the downtown area really interesting for people.
“We have many people who come to the Desert Discovery Center who want to go out to some of these places, or they want more information about the characters that are illustrated,” Jane said.
“Local historian ‘Barstow Steve’ Smith guides mural tours with many short and sometimes long stories that make the history of Barstow fun. All of them have a very human element and that’s what connects people and that’s what we are trying to do here, enrich the community,” she said.
Steve’s walking tours are on the last Saturday of the month — as long as the weather behaves, Smith said. “We don’t have tours during the hot months, like July and August.”
“Each tour starts at 10:30 a.m. at the Treasure House Mall. We start with a slide show with a history of Main Street then we take the tour walk.”
There are also special tours, often coordinated with Desert Discovery Center events, such as Earth Day. The Summer Art Festival has a bus tour for the murals that starts at the DDC.
For Halloween there is a bicycle tour — in costume. Barstow Steve wore a tutu one year much to the delight of tour-goers.
“On Christmas we have the horse-drawn surrey tour,” he said.
“All the tours are free except for the surrey tour. That is pretty special,” Smith said. “The prices are around $15 a seat.”
The tours aren’t limited to Saturdays. School or church groups or others can arrange a special mural tour by calling Smith at 760-553-4390 or the Desert Discovery Center at 760-252-6060.
“We can arrange a tour for just about anybody," Smith said. “It doesn’t even matter how many how people — I’ve done tours for two people, I’ve done tours for 30 people.”
The “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” mural is unique amongst all the other Barstow murals. The characters in front are actually freestanding. They are supported by a metal frame and add a sense of 3D to the whole piece.
Barstow has combined art and history into fun murals accessible to everyone.
In case you can't get to Barstow, take a virtual tour:
Barstow on Route 66 mural includes some of the interesting people who have visited Barstow, including Jeanne Crain, an Oscar nominated actress who was born here. 613 E. Main St.
Animals of the Mojave, 100 W. Main St., Starlight Donuts
Barstow Steve says he especially likes the Old Spanish Trail mural "because it was done as part of the Desert Discovery Center’s after school program where the kids study certain aspect of our history. The reason I like it is because the top part was painted by artist David Brockhurst but the bottom part is actually artwork done by the kids." W. Main St. between 1st and 2nd Ave, the old White and Platt Building.
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