Mural is a traffic-stopper for Mancos

Stylle Read paints the background of the mural on the west side of Mancos Liquors. The mural is part of the Mancos Heritage Project to upgrade the appearance of the town along the highway. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Stylle Read paints the background of the mural on the west side of Mancos Liquors. The mural is part of the Mancos Heritage Project to upgrade the appearance of the town along the highway.

In the spring and fall, cattle drives near Mancos on Highway 160 can halt traffic.

"People will get out of their cars to take pictures of the mountains," said Mancos Liquor storeowner Ryan McKie.

Sitting behind a cash register, McKie watches the highway traffic jams through a large plate glass window. He said travelers now have another item to photograph: a mural of a rancher and his cattle drive that adorns the western and southern exterior walls of his business.

"When people drive by, it will help bring attention to the store, and the town," McKie said.

Commissioned by the Mancos Chamber of Commerce, the mural is part of a larger heritage project to beautify the arts community east of Cortez.

"It's the most visual wall in town," said McKie, "and the mural captures today's events, just like in the old west."

Muralist Stylle Read of Fort Worth, Texas, painted the 9-by-30-foot western-theme motif in eight days.

"Some people drive with blinders, and never see anything but the road," Read said, sitting atop a milk crate on his lunch break last Friday. "Others will stop, take pictures, and before you know it they've spent the whole day in town. That economic return felt locally, that's what makes me feel good."

With an old cinder block building constructed in the 1960s as his canvas, Read said prepping for the mural included water blasting the exterior wall and applying a good layer of water protectant primer. A heavier coat of block primer was also added before Read applied four or five half-gallon pails of different color acrylic-based paints for the mural. For last minute touchups and highlights, he used conventional artist tube paint before finally spraying a clear coat layer of Frog Juice, a protectant against ultraviolet radiation, to seal the mural.

"Murals make a statement, and a lot of them are directly related to the particular community," Read said. "This one is indicative of times here."

A western muralist for 38 years, Read said the weather, particularly the sun, is the greatest challenge of outdoor murals.

"The U.V. rays eat up everything; wood, cars, skin and paint," he said. "You have to redo these things every 10 to 15 years. This stuff doesn't last forever like a bronze statue."

His artist father, Sleepy Read, 92, still paints landscapes of rural Texas. Read said he owes his father for instilling his good work ethic.

"Get out, get going, and get it done," Read explained. "Don't screw around. That's what I learned from my dad."

While in college at the University of North Texas at Denton, Read discovered his talent and love of mural painting.

His artistic influences include Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, arguably the two greatest artists of the American West: "Remington and Russell have always been my heroes," he said.

A history buff, Read's previous works have captured Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. He even painted a 25-foot portrait of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne in his hometown of Cleburne, Texas. Known as a great leader, the Irishman never stepped onto Texas soil, but the Ft. Worth suburb is named in honor of the rebel general, Read said.

"I guess it's the largest painting of a Confederate general ever," Read said, chuckling.

From California to Tennessee and all over his home state of Texas, Read's works have appeared on Hollywood set designs, album covers and even the side of Hank Williams Jr.'s tour bus. His largest mural is an 83-foot-long Texas street scene for the Fort Worth Stockyard.

Following the 950-mile journey from Ft. Worth to Mancos, Read wasn't surprised to discover that so many artists called the Mancos Valley home.

"It's a neat little town," he said. "I could live here, but I'm from Texas."

"I'm just glad to get back up to this country, and leave a little of my artwork here."