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New mural tells story of South Waco

Chesley Smith
Posted at 7:33 PM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 20:33:31-04

WACO, TX — Two artists are bringing a piece of Waco's history to life.

Chesley Smith, 74, relies on his memories to paint pictures of the past.

"The tornado is my most vivid memory," Smith said. "I was a student in the elementary school at A.J. Moore. I remember running home from school in the rain."

That's where the story begins on the 300-foot wall of Diversified Product Development on Webster Ave, but it goes on to share brighter days.

"We had a racetrack in Waco," Smith said. "Babe Ruth actually played ball here at Katy Park."

Smith said the mural tells the story of South Waco, from the cotton that built the economy to the servicemen at Connally Air Force Base.

"There's a lot of history in this mural that people in the city don't even know about," Smith said.

Smith designed the mural alongside his longtime friend, 78-year-old Ira Watkins. Watkins was born and raised in Waco. He now lives in San Francisco, flying in to help with this project.

Watkins said he has memories of working at the Greyhound bus station that he included in the mural.

"I was hired as a cook helper, basically all I did was bus tables and brought stuff out of the basement for them to cook," Watkins said. "So I would say the Greyhound bus station is the best part of this project because it brought back memories."

Doreen Ravenscroft is the director of Cultural Arts of Waco. She said Ray Fritel, the owner of Diversified, approached her about this project about four years ago. She then brought Smith and Watkins on to design it.

"We're retelling Waco's story," Ravenscroft said. "It's history and I think that's what Ray wanted it to be. He wanted to show how the city came back from a devastating tornado."

Ravenscroft said that's why the Alico building is painted sunshine yellow.

Smith and Watkins work on the mural for more than eight hours a day, seven days a week.

Paint first hit the wall at the beginning of May. They're hoping to have it finished by the end of June, weather permitting.

"It means a lot, I can come up here and see my work," Smith said. "It will be here for prosperity."

Volunteers are asked to stop by and help with the project. Smith said you don't need to be an artist to lend a hand.

Volunteers are welcome to stop by Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. Weekend shifts are also posted on the Central Texas Artist Collective Facebook page.