Murals are commonplace in downtown Tahlequah, with splashes of color on businesses that many locals say make the town more memorable.
Mayor Sue Catron says the murals are important to the vibe of the town.
“Tahlequah has a vibrant arts and music culture,” Catron said. “Our murals contribute to the vibrancy and energy of our community.”
Catron said that as mayor, she often hears a lot about “place-making.”
“In theory, communities with similar chain restaurants and stores all look alike. Local stores, local restaurants and public art are what make Tahlequah different,” Catron said. “These are the things people who visit will remember Tahlequah. Our murals help convey our character and create the personality of downtown.
Gena McPhail of Tour Tahlequah echoed that sentiment.
“The murals are extremely important to our downtown,” McPhail said.
McPhail said these pieces of public art are of interest to the area.
“I feel like the more murals in our downtown, the better,” McPhail said. “They are so beautiful.”
There are several ways to get a mural on the outside wall of a business. According to McPhail, some murals are paid for through the Tahlequah Main Street Association. Others are acquired independently.
“I want people to see the importance and value of this art in the downtown core,” McPhail said.
TMSA offers a self-guided walking tour of the various downtown murals. Using the Pocket Sights app, visitors and locals can experience 12 different works of art, including two works by local artist and Northeastern State University professor Lance Hunter.
“Below the Surface” was completed by Hunter in 2020. He had four assistants for the project: NSU alumnus Janette Snow and NSU students Leslie Hall Renee Martin and Chase Hunter, who is also the son of the artist. Lance Hunter spoke to the Tahlequah Daily Press while working on the in 2020.
“High-quality public murals are central to tourism in many cities, and I’ve seen them become a catalyst in efforts to renovate or improve downtowns,” Hunter said. “The north end of downtown Tahlequah has a charming quality that has improved tremendously with the addition of Norris Park. I am honored to have the opportunity to transform a plain, gray wall into our community and to share the efforts of the city, Main Street and the many businesses.”
Hunter painted “Reaching for Peace” on the side of the NSU Art Gallery in 2004. He restored the piece in 2018.
The fifth stop on the Downtown Murals Walking Tour is “Coffee Time!” room outside the Lift Coffee Bar.
Ray Walsh, barista and “espresso connoisseur,” said he loves the mural painted on the north side of the building.
“It’s the first thing I see when I arrive at 6:30 and it’s the last thing I see before I leave,” Walsh said.
“Coffee time!” was led by local artist and business owner Amanda Lamberson and completed in 2020. Walsh said customers often take notice of the piece.
“We usually have people taking pictures in front and tagging us on social media,” Walsh said.
Part two of this series will take a closer look at the murals in downtown Tahlequah.