Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The story of how Daniel Leggett became a muralist

By Donna Gable Hatch
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Life rarely works out the way we plan, but sometimes, an unexpected fork in the road can lead to something beautiful. That’s certainly the case for muralist Daniel Leggett of Bacliff.

Born in 1965, in Morgan City, Louisiana, Leggett graduated from Northeast Louisiana University with bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice, joined the military police in the Louisiana Army National Guard from 1984 to 1992, and was honorably discharged. He accepted a position as a correctional sergeant at Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison farm in Louisiana operated by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections.

Known as Angola, the prison is nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South.” His career path in law enforcement seemed set in stone. “I rode a horse and carried a shotgun and pistol while supervising inmates working in the field around the prison,” Leggett said. “My state-issued horse, Raphael, and I were supervising a work line, and I had to change my position to be able to see the work line, so we jumped a creek.” That leap across the creek set in motion a chain of events that would alter Leggett’s life in ways he could not have imagined. “On the other side was a snake, and Raphael started bucking and threw me over his head.” Leggett landed hard on his neck and head, had extensive surgery and was out of work on workers compensation, relying on prescription pain medication to get through the days and nights.

Depression set in, a common side effect of opioid analgesics, such as oxycontin and hydrocodone. As part of his treatment, Leggett also was prescribed Xanax for depression. It was a narcotic cocktail that led to near-disastrous results.

Following the death of his mother, unable to work due to constant pain, and his growing addiction to painkillers all resulted in the breakup of his relationship with his girlfriend and mother of their then-newborn daughter.

Jean Lafitte 


There was nothing left for him in Louisiana, so he packed up and moved to Texas.

“I decided to try to start over, but I was still addicted. That addiction led to very poor decisions that resulted in selling some pills to an undercover officer.”

Leggett, who was estranged from his father, was arrested, charged and convicted for delivery of oxycontin, a controlled substance. He spent four-and-a-half years incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institutions Division.

But it was this tragic turn of events that led Leggett to tap into a “God-given talent” that would ultimately redefine his life. He spent time with a small group of inmates who dabbled in art using colored pencils and graphite pencils on a drawing pad.

“I mentioned to a guy that I used to draw when I was younger, and he said, ‘Why not now?’ I said I don’t have any colored pencils or drawing paper. He said, ‘Here, you can have these pencils and this drawing pad.’ So, I started to draw a card to send to a girl I knew before I got locked up. Another inmate walked by and asked if I could do a card for him.”

Leggett traded the art for personal items and art supplies from the prison’s commissary.

After being transferred to the Barry B. Telford Unit, a maximum-security prison in Bowie County, he found himself in a cell with an inmate serving a 15-year sentence.

“He was a very good artist, so he would give me pointers on how to shade what colors blended together well, what to do to make the picture look better,” he said.

“I wanted to learn how to do portraits of people, so we would practice drawing celebrities out of a magazine. I wanted to learn how to draw all types of faces of different races and different shapes, so I would do a quick pencil portrait for anyone for extra meat and bread off their dinner tray.”

Jean Lafitte 


Leggett was discharged on December 23, 2007, but he knew he needed help for his addiction.

“I tried to stay clean, but I still couldn’t get the gorilla off my back—I had a gorilla, not a monkey. So, I admitted myself to a mental hospital for treatment in Houston.” It turned out to be a major turning point for him.

“While I was in there, I saw that I needed to have interaction with others who have had similar problems, so I decided right there I was going to keep going to groups after I got out. While we were having a class one day, I drew my therapist’s portrait, and he was amazed. He told me I needed to concentrate on my artwork.”

The next session centered on recreation therapy, which included listening to and discussing music.

“That song by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole—'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'—came on, and I felt like that was me. I broke down and promised myself I would get straight and go to Galveston to be an artist.”

Once out of the rehab program, he continued to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings on a daily basis—and he continued to hone his art on pieces of driftwood he collected from the shore of the bay in Bacliff.

“I sold a couple of pieces to people in the support groups and made enough money to spent $15 on some peg board and a 1-foot by 4-foot board to make a single display rack. I had about ten pieces done and went to the vacant lot on Bayshore Drive and Grand Avenue in Bacliff. People stopped and bought some. I was selling them for like $20-$30, and in the first weekend I made like $200. I was amazed.”

He learned that Maas Nursery in nearby Seabrook hosted an open house, and he asked if he could set up a small booth and sell his artwork.

“They liked my stuff so much they said I could come back anytime I wanted, so I started painting all week and going out there every weekend.”

One weekend, a couple asked him if could create an underwater 3-D mural scene of dolphin, sea turtles, and tropical fish on a fence. When finished, they paid him $1,500, and other commissions soon followed. Soon, he was painting two- to three murals a week in and around the Greater Galveston-Houston area.

Jean Lafitte 

He teamed up with a friend, Mike Dame, who paints the base coats and background color on the wall, ceiling, floor, or fence using Sherwin Williams exterior latex.

“I tell him what color I want where, and once he gets that up, I come and blend everything in then to the artwork with acrylic art paint. When that’s done, I seal it with a UV protectant clear coat. If it's exposed to severe elements, I spray it with an oil-based clear gloss.”

Leggett doesn’t use a template, stencils or projectors when creating the murals. Everything he creates is done freehand with art brushes, “and I use an airbrush, occasionally, to add detail and shading plus to make straight lines on bumpy surfaces.”

“I have a unique gift that allows me to look at a picture, think about it and actually see the outlines of what I want to draw on the surface of where I’m painting. I say it’s a gift from God that allows me to paint whatever I want anywhere I want. I’ve painted murals on ceilings, garage doors, sides of garages, inside walkways, next to swimming pools, on cinder block walls—just about anywhere I can.”

One of Leggett’s murals in Galveston that can be easily viewed is off Avenue K and 47th streets. He also recently completed one for the City of Kemah Beautification project. The mural is located at the back of the parking lot across the street from Toucan Alley Kemah at 609 Bradford Avenue.

No, his life didn’t take the trajectory he’d expected or planned, but Leggett is clean, happy, and content.

“My rental home is up on stilts, I have all my work materials, tools and supplies downstairs, and I have fenced in yard that my three little dogs can run and play in, and I don’t have to worry about them getting out,” he said.

“I’m not rich or wealthy, but I can pay my bills, take care of my dogs, my parrot, my tortoise, and my two parakeets.”

Life, like his murals, is beautiful. When the time comes, he said, and he can buy his own house, “I’ll have murals on it or all around it.”

For more information about muralist Daniel Leggett, visit or His email is