Gigantic and/or Multi-colored Inspiration

Last week we got to visit Fort Smith and Bentonville, Arkansas.  The plan was to drive straight to Bentonville to meet a relics dealer and hand off a collection of my husband’s grandfather to be auctioned.  But first we went a little out of our way to Dallas for a family visit, which meant we were driving through Oklahoma late in the afternoon, and were going to have to stop for the night somewhere short of our destination.

As I drove, my husband was online looking for hotels, and found a room at a casino close to Fort Smith.  (We like to stay at casinos because usually everybody else stays downstairs and gambles, and the upstairs hallways stay quiet.)  We were going to have to cross from Oklahoma into Arkansas, drive through the town of Fort Smith, go back across the river into Oklahoma on a different highway, and get to the casino.  It sounded easy enough.

We drove into Fort Smith past some brightly lit brew pubs and inviting restaurants, and I caught a glimpse of what looked like a huge crocheted piece on a park entrance arch, and then some flashes of some interesting murals, but the GPS instructions were taking us back out of town.  I thought, “We’ll find our hotel, and then come back to pick one of these restaurants!”  But as we followed directions down darkened streets through what seemed like miles of industrial area, with not a sign in sight to verify the existence of the elusive casino, I started to wonder if we were going the right way.

In the darkness we drove past some grain elevators, with giant figures looming on their sides.  I took it as a sign of life, thinking, “Okay, so someone has been here sometime within the last decade at least.”

American Heros by Guido Van Helten, one of the works from The Unexpected. Used by permission.

(It was much darker than this when we drove past it, but this picture captures its impact beautifully.)

I had never seen anything like it before, but it was instantly clear to me that all grain elevators should host works of art.  The more I look at it, the more I love it.

We finally found the casino and spent a peaceful night, and in the morning we headed back into Fort Smith to see what we had only glimpsed the night before.

There were murals everywhere!

Here is my favorite, a rainbow-painted building that may once have been a store, sitting in the middle of an intersection, where the roads are going off at awkward angles.  It is called Universal Chapel, and the artist is Okuda San Miguel from Spain.

Universal Chapel by Okuda San Miguel.

Universal Chapel by Okuda San Miguel. I am wishing now that I had gone up to the door to read those notices.

I love how the business sign was kept, and used to complement the building.

Here is another one.

Cross Over, collaboration by AEC and Saner.

Cross Over, collaboration by AEC and Saner.

It turns out that in 2015, a mural festival called The Unexpected was started in Fort Smith, curated by JustKids.  Mural artists from around the world came and painted for 9 days.  You can see more of their work on the event’s web page here and the host and coordinator’s Twitter feed hereCross Over seems to be from the 2017 festival installment, which was held in July.  I’m sorry I missed it!

We had limited time, but we loved walking around the town and spotting the murals.  The festival sounds like a wonderful event, with multimedia installations like light shows and a pop-up skate park.

Until I started looking for information for this post, I never knew how many murals there are in this world!  I have been fascinated by the websites Street Art United States and Graffiti Street.  I’m sure that now that my public art awareness has been raised, I will be noticing murals everywhere I go.