In 1996, a diverse population of 14,000 artists, more than half of whom were children, joined together to paint a 2.5-mile-long mural; the longest in the world. More than 25 years after its completion, the world’s largest paint-by-numbers artwork is in need of refurbishment.
A group of committed Galveston volunteers are working together to make sure the record-breaking, community art project that runs along 117,600 square feet of the Seawall, gets the full restoration it needs.
On an island packed with historic landmarks, the Seawall mural project stands, literally, head and shoulders above the rest. At 12 feet high, and more than 30 city blocks long, the mural took over 3,000 gallons of paint to complete. The mural includes 2,000 drawings and more than 4,000 images and was painted in a six-week period from April 1 to May 18.
Located between 27th and 61st streets, the Seawall mural “celebrates the diversity of gulf coast marine life and our continuing relationship with the environment,” project art director Peter Davis said.
Davis is a seventh-generation Galvestonian and the island’s Beach Patrol Chief. He had several goals in mind when he initiated the project.
“I wanted to create a community art project that a diverse group of folks could work on together. Folks that would not ordinarily work together in any other aspect of their lives. It proved that we could come together, no matter what our differences were or are. It was always about the process, and not the end result,” he said.
“Peter has an artist’s eye,” said Maureen Patton, former chair for the COG Cultural Arts Commission, and executive director of The Grand 1894 Opera House.
He saw the Seawall as a canvas, and what a beautiful canvas it is. How special is our island beach that we can see this beautiful, artistic representation of Gulf life as we come out of the water? It’s educational, it’s beautiful and it’s an attraction unto itself.”
After the 1900 Storm devastated Galveston Island, the Seawall was constructed to protect residents from future hurricanes. It was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1977, and its maintenance falls under the jurisdiction of federal, state, city and county governments.
“Once we got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on board, and we guaranteed the city that we would not be harming the Seawall in any way, we slowly began to get everyone else’s approval,” Davis said. “Then it was time to get to work.”
All funds for the project were raised from the private sector and the project came in under its original budget of more than $100,000.
The framework of the art was designed by Davis. He and his team cleaned and painted a blue background along the project line and used overhead projectors to cast images onto the Seawall by night.
Students from Galveston Independent School District, local charter schools and Texas A&M painted different sections by day. Adding numbers, and a key for colors, guaranteed everyone could work together easily, Davis said.
The culmination of a “one-day paint” by members of the community finished off the remainder of the painting. Touch ups were made in the following days and the total project time saw a completion date of seven weeks from start to finish.
“The people who worked on the mural were as diverse as the flora and fauna of the gulf itself,” Davis said.
“It’s a monument to the fact that we can all work together. This was a non-political event that celebrated what we have in common and something we could take pride in as a community,” he said.
Davis earned a graduate degree in fine arts from the University of California and worked on several community art projects while living in Africa before taking a full-time position with the Galveston Island Park Patrol in 1992.
“My goal in creating this mural was to expose and promote the rich and varied experience of the Texas coastal region,” Davis said. “I wanted it to be a celebration of our successes and a warning about potential for failure in our relationship with our fragile natural environment.”
He said the basic theme of the mural as a timeline of Gulf Coast beach and marine life. It begins with prehistoric marine organisms at 61st Street. As the viewer moves east, the organisms evolve to present-day sea life. From there, the content focuses on environmental detriments followed by a section on revitalization efforts and the current trends of conservation and recycling.
Patton says one of her biggest joys in watching the art project unfold was the participation of the children. “At one point, you realize that you are actually painting the Seawall. That alone is cool. And you know the mural was something that would be here for a long time. The kids loved working on it and took pride in their work,” she said.
“Through the years, I have hired lifeguards who worked on the original painting. They take ownership,” Davis said. “They will point out a fish and tell me, ‘That’s my fish; I painted that fish.’ It’s something they are still excited about today.”
The harsh beach environment has caused parts of the Seawall mural to fade and decay and a committee has been formed to “get the ball rolling” on the refurbishment project. Davis said he hopes the community art project will see a new generation with paint brushes in hand and once again foster a sense of camaraderie in the community.
A feeling that Patton echoed. “People have been separated and life has had its strife of late. We need something joyous to work on together,” she said.
Galveston resident and attorney, Dennis Sheehan, is a key member of the refurbishment committee.
“Even in their faded state they are an amazing tribute to what motivated Galvestonians can achieve,” Sheehan said.
“We must recognize that our beaches are a gift that we should be good stewards for. The beaches are our ‘front lawn’ and we have allowed the murals to simply fade away, making them a sad reminder of what neglect will do. It is time to reclaim this historical art project so that everyone who goes to the beach can see that Galveston is strong, and that the murals are a testament to the strength and commitment of our community.”
Kathleen DiNatale, the current chair for the COG Cultural Arts Commission, is also excited about rebooting the community art project.
“This is an important project. It’s sad to see the decayed and faded portions of the mural,” DiNatale said.
“The good news is that Peter, Maureen, and the rest of the team did such a good job the first time around, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We want to involve the entire community again. We’ve only just started the conversation about the project and the public will hear more about it as we move forward.”
Interested in raising community awareness and/or funds? E-mail your comments to CulturalArts@GalvestonTX.gov.
“May [the mural] remind us of our potential and ability to work together toward a common goal.” —Peter Davis, art director.
Peter Davis is a seventh-generation Galvestonian and the island’s Beach Patrol Chief.
More than 14,000 artists participated in the painting of the world’s largest paint-by-numbers mural, located along 2.5 miles of Galveston beach.