Q&A: Public Art Brightens Benson's Walls

One of the murals recently painted in Benson. | Courtesy of Benson Clean and Beautiful

If you haven’t visited Benson in the past few years, you might be surprised at the pop of color adorning walls around the Southern Arizona city. Thanks to the Benson Clean and Beautiful committee and the work of a local artist, previously bare walls are now filled with bright, colorful murals depicting the city's history. The vice president of the committee, Leo O’Farrell, gave us some more details about the group and the murals it’s working to fund.

Tell us about the Benson Clean and Beautiful group and its mural program.
It’s a nonprofit dedicated to beautifying Benson. Its current focus is outdoor historical wall murals. The murals focus on the historical items of interest for the city of Benson and Cochise County, to publicize the rich and diverse history of our area. The murals may depict important people or events that had an impact on local history, or our diverse desert fauna and flora.

What was the inspiration behind the mural program?
Our president is Lisa Hill, and she started the mural program in 2013. That first year I think she was able to produce 20 murals. Lisa was in Lake Placid, Florida, visiting a friend, and they had a mural program there. She became very excited about it, so she came back to Benson and started looking around for someone to paint murals. She put an article in a newspaper telling the local people what we were doing. A local artist in Tucumcari, New Mexico, saw the article, contacted Lisa and moved kit and caboodle from Tucumcari to Benson in 2013. Lisa then started contacting the railroad that runs through town, and they were very, very excited about it and donated a tremendous amount of money to help get us started.

Who is the artist behind the murals?
We have just one artist; his name is Doug Quarles, and he and his wife, Sharon, now operate an art gallery in town. They’re both very, very talented.

How many murals are currently around town?
At the present time we have about 31 murals. They’re all colorful, wall-sized and they are getting a great deal of attention from the locals and people traveling from Tucson to Tombstone. Many of them stop and comment on our murals. It’s pretty big. We like to call ourselves the mural capital of Arizona; I don’t know if we can take that honor yet, but that’s what I like to tell people.

Can you describe the story behind one of the murals?
There is a vacant building on our main street here. I think the building was built in the mid-1800s and was occupied by a grocer. The Wo family operated for decades, and what he used to do was travel to Tucson and bring his provisions back and sell them to the miners and the railroad workers who were traveling through the city. It was very successful. On Sundays he used to give out candy and free ice cream to the children, so it was a place that people could gather. Now the building has been vacant for many, many years, and the owner came to us and said that they wanted to have a mural put on the wall. Because of the age of the building, when we contracted to have the mural done, we decided to paint the mural on another surface and attach that surface to the building. The mural is extremely colorful and depicts pictures of the owners, Hi Wo and his wife, of the original store and the date of the store’s operations.

What does the future hold for the group?
We’re presently working on two projects. One is 100 feet by 15 feet, and it depicts a cattle drive and is filled with cattle, cowboys and horses. We’re in the process of raising funds for that project now. We have another one, called Desert Life, that’s going to be 60 feet by 13 feet. That wall faces the south, so visitors who come from Douglas, Bisbee and Tucson will be greeted as they enter the city. There’s an announcement on the wall, in addition to the mural, that says, "Welcome to Benson."

I think this is a program that will be in Benson forever. It’s hard to run out of walls. We have more walls that we can fill; there’s a lot of walls just waiting for a mural to be put on it.

— Kirsten Kraklio

To find out how to volunteer or to learn more about the mural program, visit the group’s website.

All photos courtesy of Benson Clean and Beautiful.

 

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