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Traveling Texas: El Paso's rich & artistic history

Posted at 4:39 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 18:13:12-04

EL PASO, Texas — It’s called “The Sun City” for a reason. According to the National Weather Service, the sun shines on El Paso an average of 302 days a year. But this vibrant city on the US-Mexico border is also a city of murals.

Our visit began at the historic Paseo del Norte hotel. This 351-room luxury hotel opened on Thanksgiving Day of 1912 and is located less than a mile north of the international border with Mexico. It’s said in 1914 during the Mexican revolution, hotel guests would stand on the terrace and watch firefights between the Mexican army and the revolutionaries.

Today outside the hotel, you’ll find art like a giant yellow door titled “Bienvenido," meaning "Welcome."

Art is a hallmark of El Paso from the highly acclaimed El Paso Museum of Art to the iconic murals you will find all over the city.

El Paso's former First Lady Adair Margo, a third-generation El Pasoan, leads a bus tour of some of the city’s murals.

“Every day can be an international experience,” said Margo.

Margo served as President George W. Bush’s Chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and served on the National Council of Humanities. She’s a devoted champion of El Paso muralist Tom Lea, founding the Tom Lea Institute.

“I love using Tom Lea’s words about El Paso. It's nice to have an artist who writes about a place because it gives you words. But when people asked him what he loved about this dried-up, barren place, he obviously loved to live and work in," said Margo. "He said 'I love it for the intensity of its sunlight, the clarity of its sky, the hugeness of its space, its revealed structure of naked earth, primal forms without adornment.'”

But El Paso has art adorning everything from the concrete supports of the overpasses to buildings covered in graffiti art known as tagging.

“A lot of our artists started that way and we do have a fest every year where we do have that cold storage place off Cotton Street where it's a huge building, and they invite people with their spray cans and whatever medium they use to paint everything from graffiti to, you know, big images of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Aztec goddesses and themes that reflect our reach," said Margo.

Margo says the painting of murals goes back many years, with its roots in Mexico.

“We have a tradition, we're on the border of Mexico. And, of course, Mexico inspired our new deal period, painting murals. And so a lot of our young people, especially those with roots in Mexico who have come to this country, love painting on walls," she said.

One rather famous mural depicts the effect of AIDS on the community.

“There was a program with the private industry council with a muralist I knew named Carlos Callejo, who worked with young people in the Segundo Barrio to paint to come up with concepts about what they wanted, what was bothering them, or what was an issue,” Margo said.

More than 100 vivid murals are scattered throughout El Paso—reflecting a rich Mexican storytelling tradition—clearly a point of pride for Margo.

“I know I'm exactly where I belong and I never tire of it because it's so diverse,” said Margo.

So come enjoy the light, the art, the culture and the rich history that awaits you here.