Hidden artworks: The story of 4 outdoor murals around Waco


Outdoor murals may contain a picture that’s worth a thousand words, but a fleeting glimpse while driving through town may only add up to a few hundred words.

Though billboards and corporate logos scatter giant images and text throughout Waco, oversized paintings on walls and building sides are harder to find and may be less obvious to the eye. Here’s the back story of four murals seen around Waco.




“River of Life”

“River of Life” by Kate HeadAntioch Community Church, 2000 block Fort Avenue

Thousands of motorists on Waco Drive pass the front of Antioch Community Church, 505 N. 20th St., without noticing the elaborate, colorful “River of Life” mural on the children’s building facing Fort Avenue.

Mural project coordinator Kate Head, a former Art Center Waco education and outreach coordinator, worked with artist Shannon Birchum in a 2001 summer project intended to add a splash of color to the side facing the church’s neighborhood.

Their design, inspired by Chapter 47 of the Bible’s Book of Ezekiel, depicts a stream flowing from a central, cross-like tree with “Jesus” written on it. Swirling along the mural’s bottom is the word “life” translated into several languages.

Birchum found one unexpected bonus in the painting project: She met her husband, Don. The couple lives in Fredericksburg.

(Photo by Duane A. Laverty)




“Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Martin Luther King Jr.” by Ira WatkinsOld train trestle, Lake Brazos, Martin Luther King Jr. Park

What good is a 20-foot tall concrete train trestle after the train and the track are long gone? It provides a convenient canvas to identify Martin Luther King Jr. Park with its namesake.

The mural, painted by Waco native Ira Watkins, captures a scene of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s on a concrete pier that supported track for the Texas Electric Railway Company’s interurban line that ran from Waco to Denton from 1917-48.

Waco Park Superintendent Burck Tollett said the mural, dedicated in 2005, helps viewers realize Martin Luther King Jr. Park extends farther along Lake Brazos than the property across from Indian Spring Park.

McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson and businessman Donnie Wilkinson paid for the artwork while the Waco City Council approved funds for its lighting. Watkins’ work also graces the sides of the Easy Fisherman restaurant on Taylor Street.

(Photo by Rod Aydelotte)




“It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”

“It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” by Samuel Torres800 block Elm Street

On the opposite side of the building block from Smith’s “Black Pride” is artist Samuel Torres’ “It Takes a Village To Raise a Child.” The village’s women wear dresses in bright colors that snag the eyes of motorists heading away from downtown on Elm Street.

It’s one of the most popular creations of “Color Us Proud.” Edwards said Marilyn’s Gift Gallery fields comments about the painting on a regular basis. “I told Sam we should have charged admission for his work,” Edwards said with a laugh.

(Photo by Carl Hoover)




“Black Pride”

“Black Pride” mural by Chesley Smith800 block Elm Street

Waco painter Chesley Smith’s eye for color and his clean sense of design show in three murals he created for the 2005 “Color Us Proud” project that connected Waco artists and blank walls and boarded-over windows of several Elm Street-area buildings.

Gale Edwards, Community Leadership Institute coordinator for NeighborWorks Waco, said the project started with six murals with the idea of beautifying a street dominated by abandoned buildings and vacant lots. A later collaboration with the McLennan County Youth Coalition added more murals.

Smith’s “Black Pride” is on the north side of the block with Marilyn’s Gift Gallery, a longtime East Waco business. His other “Color Us Proud” paintings are “Each One Reach One Teach One” and “Peace.”

(Photo by Carl Hoover)