It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is true, then the towns that rest in the valleys of Delta County have a wealth of words to share. There are over 30 murals that brighten the sides of downtown buildings and schools from Delta to Paonia. Some reflect the history of the past and some take note of the present. All of them tell the story of community and have become a defining part of our county.
Many cities and small towns have turned to this visual art to beautify their main streets and neighborhoods. From commissioned graffiti to detailed frescos, these pieces find their way onto the blank slate of buildings that seem to beg for stories to be told on their bricks. Their esthetic value enhances the surrounding area and nearby businesses. They encourage pedestrian traffic to visit, and to linger, and they often evoke a sense of pride in residents. These public works of art are beautiful, without a doubt, but their deeper value lies in the conversations and connections that follow.
Towns in the American West are a fitting place to showcase murals. Not only because the expansive brick facades of our downtown buildings make the perfect canvas, but because the history of humans creating murals here dates back thousands of years. The indigenous residents of the area were creating rock art at nearby sites that are over 13,000 years old. It’s still the best way to tell a lasting story and in the city of Delta alone there are at least 20 modern day murals.
In 1986 Delta was awarded funds for an urban renewal project. The Delta Public Art Committee was formed and a plan to form a mural project took shape. One by one, the projects were realized and Delta soon became known as “The City of Murals”. The goal of the committee is to clean and repair any existing murals and to facilitate new works. Business owners are approached, a theme is chosen, and an artist who compliments that theme is selected. Currently, artist Connie Williams’ colorful and iconic Fruit Growers Labels, which runs the length of the Davis Clothing building, is under repair.
Other murals in Delta, which depict the early history of the area, include several scenes and snapshots from the past. Ute Country, by Connie Williams, offers a sweeping vision of the Ute people at sunset. Gateway to the Canyons, by Richard Doherty and Seth Weber, tells the story of explorers, Dominguez and Escalante, and the colorful Train, by Seth Weber and Paul Wassail, pays homage to the arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1882. Paul Doherty’s life-sized photorealistic mural of The Hardware Store was reproduced from an old photograph taken at the location. Around the corner you’ll find the Opera House by Richard Doherty, that once occupied the top floor of the hardware store on the site.
There are several murals worthy of distinction throughout the city but one in particular bears note. It’s titled A Piece of Art, and although it is probably the smallest painting in size, its effect is larger than life. The portrait pays homage to Art Briggs, a resident of Delta House. Art was known for sweeping the sidewalks and was a constant friendly presence on Main Street. Artist Seth Weber painted him on a park bench with coffee and a cigarette in hand. The simple and unassuming depiction is representative of the power of street art and somehow seems to capture the very essence of the community.
Heading into the North Fork Valley will bring you to the town of Hotchkiss where you’re greeted by a painting on a sign naming it The Friendliest Town Around. Many of the murals here share the theme of their school mascot, the bulldog, and were painted by students. The mural on the side of the old fire station, by Thomas Wills, depicts life there in 1921 and presents a list of the people and businesses from the time. Just around the corner, Mary Hockenbery’s Church of Art always has something new to check out on its faces. On the back, you will find the fading remnants of a fantastic photo mural of a Hopi girl farming in a pair of Converse shoes. The piece was done by Chip Thomas and was designed as a temporary image.
The newest edition to town can be found on the side of Gambles Hardware Store. Owner Kim Shay first acquired the old signs from the now-defunct Farmer Franks buildings and hung them there as an homage to the former small shopping center that was located between Hotchkiss and Paonia. Now the signs are accompanied by a beautiful, expansive, airbrushed mural of horses grazing in a field at sunset. The art was done by Bourassa Designs and has significantly stepped up the game for street art in town.
Nearby, the town of Paonia is beginning to give Delta a run for their money in a race for the distinction of most murals per capita. There has been a recent explosion of new mural art, some literally appearing overnight. From works painted on the street itself and picnic shelters, to three-dimensional works of art on fences, the town now boasts at least eleven murals and counting. The colorful new “Welcome to Paonia” sign on Highway 133 gives a hint of what might be found on Grand Avenue. The two oldest downtown murals were painted by G Allen. One depicts the Escalante and Domingues expedition through several different scenes and the other is an ode to the founder of the town, Samuel Wade, and the town’s deep roots in fruit orchards and mining.
A new mural on the corner of 2nd Street and Grand Avenue features an inquisitive goat with a bountiful bonnet. It was commissioned by the North Fork Creative Coalition and painted by Lorin Pope and Lani McKay earlier this year. Local artist Seth Weber, who also had a hand in several of the Delta murals, has been busy on this end of the county as well. Valley of Abundance, a mural painted in memory of his daughter, Jubilee, shows children at play near flowers and orchards. Another of his works recently appeared on the side of Paonia Farm and Home Supply and features a farm and baby chick. Seth is currently at work on an expansive scene, titled Soar, that depicts a young eagle taking flight on the gymnasium at Paonia Elementary School.
Often times, searching for all the pieces a town has to offer can lead to a tricky game of hide and seek. Back alleys and barns off the beaten path sometimes offer the best hidden gems for connoisseurs. Other times, works appear in plain sight where there was a blank wall the day before. Street artist Jules Muck, from Venice California, was visiting a friend in Paonia while working on a commissioned piece in denver and left behind three brand new works in her wake.
These various and vibrant life-sized scenes of yesterday and today give us an opportunity to explore our relationships and their relevance to tomorrow. They tie together the individuals and communities of our region and create conversations and connections. They make our sidewalks welcoming and walkable and give visitors and locals alike a reason to pause and take pride in fellowship; a fellowship not unlike the one between the townspeople and a friendly man who liked to sweep the sidewalk and simply say hello to folks passing by.
Although several of the murals of Delta County are pictured within this article and below, there are more that beg to be explored. You can visit CityofDelta.net for a complete list of the murals in Delta. The rest you'll just have to find yourself.
Scroll down for more murals which are posted in no particular order.