Barstow Says Yes, 29 Palms Says No To New Murals

(March 22) Efforts to perk up the aesthetics in two of San Bernardino County’s desert cities had diametric outcomes this month.
In Barstow, artist Kim Capp put the finishing touches on a mural which celebrated Route 66 as the “Main Street of America.”
In Twentynine Palms, the city council rejected a proposal to have artist Art Mortimer complete a mural featuring depictions of Bill Keys’ life.
Both murals, the one completed in Barstow and the one put on hold in Twentynine Palms, were intended as celebrations of local history.
In Barstow, Capp’s artwork was put on a brick wall along the Route 66 Motel and commemorated Barstow as a point along the highway, first established in 1926, linking Chicago and Los Angeles. Capp’s completed mural depicts the eight states  – Illinois, Missouri, Kansas,  Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California – the highway runs through.
In Twentynine Palms, the city’s Action Committee had called upon the city to fund Mortimer’s tribute to Keys, one of the most colorful of local characters. A Nebraska native who worked as a deputy sheriff in Mohave County in Arizona, Keys arrived in the environs of Joshua Tree National Park in 1910, where he made the acquaintance, and eventually acquired the ranch, of notorious cattle rustler Jim McHaney. What became known as the Keys Desert Queen Ranch was a prime example of the innovation and resourcefulness of the region’s early settlers, with an extensive complex of small frame buildings.  Keys cannibalized an old gold ore crushing mill that had been located in Pinon Wells and relocated the late-19th Century two-stamp mill machinery to Joshua Tree, dubbing it the Wall Street Mill. He became embroiled in a dispute with Worth Bagley over access to the Wall Street Mill, and in 1943 shot and killed him. Keys was tried for murder and convicted, serving six years in San Quentin Prison. He was paroled in 1950 and was pardoned in 1956 largely as a result of the efforts of Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels.
The Twentynine Palms City Council unanimously denied a $10,000 funding request from the Action Council for 29 Palms to pay for Mortimer’s work decorating a wall of the Siam Alterations building on Adobe Road, opposite an existing mural of pioneer constable Jack Cones.
Both Mortimer and his Barstow counterpart, Capp, are accomplished muralists. Mortimer is responsible for the Battle of the Bell mural at Twentynine Palms High School.  Capp’s previous work includes murals at the Platas Mexican Restaurant as well as on a hill off Highway 58.
Barstow and Twentynine Palms each have nonprofit groups that support and promote mural painting. In Barstow that group is known as Main Street Murals and it has succeeded in completing an outdoor gallery of murals around the city of 22,639.  In 25,048-population Twentynine Palms, the Action Council For Twentynine Palms fills that role, having completed 22 murals around the city utilizing private funds, although in 2012-13, the city’s general capital projects fund has $20,000 earmarked for public art.

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