A canvass of brick and mortar about 30 feet high and 130 feet wide in downtown Hobbs invites grade school children to a painting party this week and next.
Contracted by the Lea County Center for the Arts, Oklahoma-based artist Bob Palmer, Ph.D., said he enjoys working with the kids to paint murals.
“Not only do I feel like I’m an artist, but also an educator. I enjoy projects that involved kids,” he said.
Palmer anticipates a mural on the east wall of the Workhorse building just west of the Center for the Arts at Broadway and Shipp to take about two weeks to complete, weather permitting.
Pupils from Will Rogers and Edison elementary schools began painting a blue background Monday near ground level, leaving the higher portion for Palmer to paint on Tuesday. A retired professor from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla., Palmer said he and his students have painted more than 2,500 murals in his 30-plus years of teaching. While most of their murals are in and around Oklahoma, he also had traveled to Mexico, Canada and eastern Europe to paint murals.
“I have a few actually out of the country — Mexico, Canada and eastern Europe. But I really like painting in the good old USA,” he said. “We worked on a building that was four stories high in Macedonia and their scaffolding was made out of two-by-fours tied together with wire. So I wouldn’t let any of my students work on the high stuff.”
The height doesn’t bother Palmer who, on Tuesday, was riding high on a scissor lift to reach the top of the Workhorse building with a paint roller. “I’m not afraid of heights because I used to work in the oilfields. I can identify with Hobbs with all the oilfields. That’s how I put myself through college,” he said.
The largest mural he has painted is in Oklahoma City, four blocks long and about 20 feet high, and serves as a landmark for many residents. The highest, he said, was a grain elevator, 120 feet high.
Most recently in Hobbs last year, he worked with teenagers to complete a three-wall mural inside the Hobbs Teen Center. That mural highlights New Mexico scenes.
The current outdoor mural will include silhouettes of the children appearing to be playing musical instruments, marching and flying kites behind the trees in the Shipp Street Plaza. Each of the children will fill in an outline of his own body before the job is done.
“That’s how we’re trying to incorporate the kids with the environment,” he said. “We’re incorporating the trees so it will be kind of three-dimensional. Since I retired, I get to do more murals than I’ve ever done. I get to do fun things. I pick and choose.”
Palmer still runs his own business, Palmer Studios, in his hometown of Bethany, Okla., and works in a studio in Oklahoma City with eight other artists.
“I enjoy painting for small communities. They’re the ones that seem to appreciate it,” he said. “They deserve good art, so I bring with me my experience and hopefully plant a lot of seeds along the way.”
Planting seeds proved rewarding for Palmer.
“Some of my mural painter students have gone on to bigger and better things. I’ve got some of the best on the west coast, the east coast and in Chicago. They’re awesome. Better than their teacher,” he smiled. “I had a former student that called me and said, ‘Dr. Palmer, I just did a mural and they paid me over $100,000.’ That was one that was in Chicago.”
Center for the Arts Executive Director Andrew Akufo explained the contract with Palmer is part of the 21st Century Grant, a program sponsored by the U.S. government. The grant supports creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high poverty and low performing schools.
Hobbs Municipal Schools received one of the grants, which may total as much as $5.2 million during a period of five years.
Akufo said the children are chosen to participate on a “first come, first served” basis.
“From my understanding, we have a waiting list,” he added.