WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Austin’s first exhibit of public art is not a mural. It’s a mirror reflecting the cultural street scene of 1973. Every notable character is here. All the puzzle pieces are in place. This postcard to the past is stamped and ready to be delivered. But how do we unlock a Stoned Rosetta? Decipher its hippie hieroglyphics? How do we not get lost down dozens of rabbit holes filled with armadillos? Onward! Thru the fog.
It was inevitable armadillos would end up dead center on the mural. For the past few years, Jim Franklin, through sheer passion, perseverance and his own peculiarities, had brought the lowly armadillo up into the Austin zeitgeist. He painted them, kept live ones as models and dressed up like one - but it all started when he put a joint in an armadillo’s mouth. No, not literally, artistically.
Created by Gilbert Shelton, Oat Willie was his comic book character with a rallying cry of “Onward thru the fog.” In 1968 Gilbert entered him as a write-in candidate for Texas Governor. Supporters of Oat Willie's campaign often met at a local head shop Underground City Hall aka Campaign Headquarters. Unfortunately, Oat Willie lost the race but won the hearts of Austin’s anti-establishment. Maybe Oat Willie even inspired Crazy Carl’s multiple runs for City Council and Kinky Friedman’s Governor campaigns which were soon to come.
Doug Brown and George Majewski bought the Underground City Hall and changed the name to Oat Willie's: Campaign Headquarters. There are still Oat Willie’s in Austin. Visit one today! Oatwillies.com
Spencer Perskin’s band sits at the head of the river of the entire Austin music scene. Shiva’s Headband played opening night at the Vulcan Gas Company AND the Armadillo World HQ. His band not only introduced the psychedelic scene to Austin he made these clubs a must-play venue for all touring bands. So everyone played Austin. Which gave Austin a front row seat to the biggest names in folk, rock, country and especially the blues. Like one of Spencer’s live 18 minute fiddle-forward acid fueled songs that swirled the audience into a frenzy the town became a musical petri dish out of which so many formidable bands formed. And thanks to The Vulcan, they had a place to play.
Of course Johnny is peeking out the window of the Vulcan Gas Company because it was here in 1968 he recorded his first album: The Progressive Blues Experiment. Because of this ground-shaking debut, his striking looks and virtuosity on the guitar, Johnny was quickly ‘discovered’ at the Fillmore East, signed to the biggest advance in music history and within a year was on stage at Woodstock (backed by Austin bassist Tommy Shannon). So, he had been to the mountaintop by the time he settled into regular gigs at the Vulcan in podunk Austin, TX.
With the Vulcan as the venue and Johnny as a draw, every blues icon of the day made it a point to stop and jam in Austin. Muddy, Hooker, BB, Albert. Howlin’, Mance and Freddie. What a scene. Mutual respect grew between these artists and the city of Austin in no small part because Johnny continued to produce new albums for many of these blues superstars. After the Vulcan closed, they played the Armadillo. After the Armadillo shuttered, they played Antone’s. And that was where another young white blues guitar player got to riff alongside the greats like Albert King. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s reinterpretation of the blues, and subsequent fame, only could have happened thanks to the foundational groove Johnny Winter laid down before him. Thanks Johnny.
Hey, Cupcake. Torchy’s. East Side Kings. Odd Duck. Via 313. Gourdoughs (above to the right). Oh, and Franklins BBQ. In a town where taking a restaurant concept from food truck, to brick-and-mortar, to nationwide franchise is a proven model it’s hard to imagine a time when selling food on the street would get you locked up. Actually arrested. So who do we have to thank for keeping Aaron Franklin out of the pokie and behind the pits? That distinction falls on the shoulders of UT law school student - Roland DeNoile - who saw a hungry niche of students a long walk from the Texas Union’s greasy cheeseburgers. They needed salvation. They needed Salvation Sandwiches.
After winning the Austin Chronicle’s Best Photographer category 10 years in a row, they just canceled it, because there was never a doubt Alan Pogue would keep on winning it. His documentation of the city's cultural and political life over the last 50 years is unmatched and unrelenting. He shot every iconic institution in town as it was becoming an iconic institution: The Drag, The Armadillo, Les Amis, Liberty Lunch, Esther’s Follies and every fool that sauntered through City Hall. So inevitable he was there, on campus, in the rain, shutter clicking to capture a random moment as it became magic.
Running a comic book character for Governor. Eeyore's Birthday. Setting the city free with a saxophone solo from the roof of your rental house at midnight. These big ideas don’t come from a six pack of Lone Star. You need imagination, endurance, the ability to suck clouds into your fingertips, and peyote. Lots of peyote. Weed, mescaline, LSD and drugstore amphetamines were prevalent in 1973 Austin. But if you had to pick one that put Austin on the hippie highway it would have to be psilocybin. Although no one picked just one.
For decades Austin provided musicians the grooviest paradise to play. Cheap rent, killer venues and a fervid audience kept the party rolling. But most importantly, Austin gave musicians space. They were thousands of miles from the nearest record company, living totally under the radar and playing all the time (on stage and off). This space allowed them the creative latitude to find their voice and not follow the formula. It happened again and again with Roky, Johnny, Doug, SRV and the biggest of them all, Willie. Austin gave Willie Nelson the space to transform from another Nashville songwriter to WILLIE! – one name superstar. And that transition happened in Austin with the recording of a single song.
Outside of Chicago you’d be hard pressed to find a town as supportive of the blues as Austin TX. From the Vulcan Gas Company to the Ritz to the Armadillo World Headquarters to Antone’s there was always a place for the biggest names in blues to perform. Jimmy and Lil’ Stevie Vaughan grew up in these clubs watching these icons play and then took what they learned to a myriad of bands they fronted over the years. Then the pieces clicked into place for Stevie, lightning struck, the clouds parted and the entire world got to see what had been cooking on the small stages of Austin, TX.
His bandmates Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton tell us what it was like to catch the biggest ride of them all.
Originally drawn by Gilbert Shelton, Oat Willie was his original comic book character. Oat Willie became the name and mascot of Austin’s first head shop where you could then buy the latest episode of the comic book. Oat Willie also adopted and made famous “Onward through the fog.
”There are still Oat Willie’s in Austin. Visit one today! Oatwillies.com
For 40 years Crazy Carl spun a flower in front of Esther’s Follies on 6th Street. And if you could distill the special sauce of Austin into one wild man-boob making individual it would have to be Crazy Carl Hickerson. He lived across the street from the Beef and Pie studio. After many afternoons of watching him load buckets of fresh chrysanthemums and wheel his life partner Charlotte into the back of his decoupaged van we knew something special was happening.
We made a film about him: Crazy Carl and his Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story. As we tell his story — from flower salesman to street performer to perennial candidate for city council – we tell the story of Austi.. It’s different than all the shorts on this site (this is a 50 minute documentary) but it’s the reason we started the mural project in the first place. Now before this gets too meta, let’s get on with the show and say thanks Carl, this is one more wild thing you set in motion.
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All contributions go to making more stories for the mural and keeping it free for all.
The Austin Film Society is a fiscal sponsor of The 23rd Street Mural Project.
Beef and Pie Productions is an independent, full-service, video production company founded in Austin, TX in 2001. They filmed, edited and wrote all the content you’ll find on this site. They didn’t even attempt to verify the memories of their sources, and certainly didn’t fact check their audacious claims that they single-handedly started the AWHQ. (Yes, everyone started the AWHQ). Although sometimes they did question the plausibility of their interviewees ability to alter time and space itself. But they didn’t press them, they just laughed, wafted the weed out of studio and printed the legend.
The Graphic Standard is an award-winning design studio specializing in bespoke branding and digital experiences that elevate brands and drive business.
Kerry Awn, Rick Turner, Tommy Bee
BEEF & PIE PRODUCTIONS
Writer/Director: Mike Woolf
Producer: Michelle Crosby
Editor: Landon Peterson
Camera: Andrew Yates, Josh Verduzco, Amy Smith
Audio: Chris Erlon Digital Domain
THE GRAPHIC STANDARD
Gray Luckett, Shane Bzdok, John Norton, Isaac Martin and Shelby Barnes
A drag vendor who claims to have sold more than 10,000 watercolors. If you are at the mural right now, look behind you. As of 2023, he’s still out there selling.
Finished in 1887, the Butler Mansion utilized both Butler bricks and Marble Falls granite that had been shipped in at the same time for the State Capitol. The mansion's unique design featured rooms laid out only in unconventional geometric shapes, with two octagons and absolutely no rectangle or square spaces.It presided over the corner of 11th and Guadeloupe until 1971 when Louis Marks of Houston bought it and demolished it for a parking lot. It was already gone when the mural was first being painted in 1973.
This was the home of Michael and Mary Butler, founders of the Butler Brick Company. Butler Bricks were the building blocks of Austin. Warehouses, homes and hotels were all built with their innovative product. Made from the clay fields that formed on the banks of the Colorado River these bricks were used in UT’s Old Main Building, and over 300,000 are a part of the Texas State Capitol.
You can still find Butler bricks all over Austin and you can touch a piece of architectural history at the Zilker Botanical Garden. A window from the Butler Mansion sits amongst the local trees and wildflowers.
Printed at night, surreptitiously on copy machines located in the Texas State Capitol basement, God Nose is recognized as the very first underground comic book. It was 1964, as a student at UT, when Jack “JAXON” Johnson drew God Nose. Only God knew that when he ran off those illicit copies he’d spark an entirely new literary genre. Four years later in San Francisco JAXON, along with Austin buddies Gilbert Shelton (see below, to the left), Dred Todd and Dave Moriaty, started Rip Off Press. Convinced that by owning a printing press they could "rule the world," Rip Off Press published the earliest R. Crumb comics and launched the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers to worldwide fame.
JAXON never stopped drawing. He penned a whole series of lively, detailed and historically accurate works that chronicled the bloody and fascinating history around the founding of Texas. Comanche Moon is a great place to start. The authenticity he brought to the subject was a clear influence on Larry McMurtry who also titled the second novel of his Lonesome Dove trilogy, Comanche Moon.
JAXON passed in 2006. Here is a rare video of him talking about his work.
As LBJ famously put it at the dedication of his library, "It is all here: the story of our time—with the bark off.” And in Austin, on that day, that tree was raw. LBJ had only been out of office two years, the Vietnam War was raging, as were the protests across the country and especially at UT. So when the entire leadership of the US Government descended on Austin there was no question the anti-establishment would have something to say. Here are two shorts films that, together, capture the dichotomy of the day.
An Encounter with History:
Dedication of the LBJ Library.
Watch the film
Witches Hex LBJ Library
Watch the film
RICK: “No one knew his name, he just stood in front of the Co-op and shouted ''Smile! Smile!” All day long. It was with a weird mixture of good cheer and menace.”
The Smile Guy collected change for the People’s Free Clinic. When the free clinic opened in 1970 it was a big deal. If you are standing in front of the mural look over your right shoulder, you’ll see the church basement where it began. This is where anyone could get free medical care and (very importantly at the time) birth control. You might have to wait in line for hours but where else could low-income, uninsured Austinites turn for their medical needs? This meant everything to the burgeoning artist, musician, and creative community because it was another example of them not having to rely on society’s infrastructure.
In 1974, the People’s Free Clinic changed its name to People’s Community Clinic. “It wasn’t supposed to be ‘free’ as in “don’t pay,” original volunteer Alicia Jarry says. “It was supposed to be “free” as in free from the establishment, free love, etc.”
The clinic is now a proven model for medical care, a true safety net for the area’s uninsured and medically underserved. What started with a handful of idealist doctors and nurses donating their time, has grown to serve 20,000 people a year with a $26.3 million annual budget. Today PCC is housed in two main buildings: The People’s Center for Women’s Health off of Interstate 35 across from St. David’s Medical Center and the main People’s Community Clinic run a much bigger facility at Interstate 35 and U.S. 290. They celebrated their 50th anniversary right in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic.
You can put a smile on a lot of faces by donating some change in his name to the current PCC.
The Elisabet Ney Museum has to be considered the first art studio built in Texas. It was completed in 1893 and was where Elisabet Ney worked, lived and entertained until her death in 1907. Before building her little castle in the suburbs of Austin, Elisabet had already pioneered a trailblazing career in Europe. She was the first female sculpture student to study at the Munich Academy of Art. Her clear craftsmanship and personal charm earned sittings with the highest levels of society. Prussian Kings, German philosophers, even composer Robert Wagner sat for her to sculpt portraits.
Outspoken, unconventional, and iconoclastic, Elisabet is Austin’s first cultural outlaw. Soon upon her arrival she was in demand socially and artistically. During the hot days of summer she would work on busts of Sam Houston or Lady MacBeth and, in the cooler evenings, host dinners on the shores of her little lake she created by building a dam on Waller Creek. Art inspires art. Her full length sculpture of Stephen F Austin was the inspiration for the focal point of the 23rd Street Mural.
Elisabet’s sculptures of Stephen F Austin and Sam Houston are on display in the rotunda of the State Capitol, her Lady MacBeth is at the Smithsonian, and her full length of King Ludwig can be seen at her museum in Hyde Park, open weekdays 10-5.
This historic brick church shares a unique kinship with the Texas State Capitol. When the Capitol burned to the ground in 1881 anything that could be saved was piled into a small hill of rubble at the head of Congress Avenue. Much of the brick, limestone, and timber that the Gethsemane Lutheran Church is built from was salvaged by congregation members – with wheelbarrows – in 1882.
They worshiped there until 1961 when they moved north and the State of Texas bought the church. It was renovated, restored and since 1970 has been home to the Texas Historical Commission – the agency dedicated to preservation throughout the state of Texas. The church now provides sanctuary to the entire THC Library.
Hank was added during the 2002 renovation.
RICK: We did this whole mural as an ode to the counterculture that we were a part of. It was a bunch of in jokes. As that counterculture got embraced and began to be assimilated, the imagery we added during subsequent renovations was more mainstream. We went from Roky to Hank Hill. He was a good addition.
TOMMY: Mike Judge is from Austin.
KERRY: And Hank is easy to paint.
Former governor of Texas.
KERRY: Originally this was a streaker. That was a thing in the 70’s. Streaking. So we needed someone to streak through our mural. We updated it in 2002 with Matthew.
RICK: Anybody that can get arrested naked with a bong and bongo drum deserves recognition.
Rick: Oh we just wanted to load that up with meaning. First there had to be some violet in the crown because we live in the Violet Crown. As many jewels we could fit. And the six flags over Texas: Spain, France. Mexico. The Confederacy. The Republic of Texas and the USA.
Four times over the past 50 years the mural has been repainted, and updated, with characters, new skyscrapers, and tie-fighters. It has faded, been tagged and most recently the wall underneath began to crumble. Each renovation the artists give it a fresh coat and decide who to add. This has become an informal way of honoring people who have passed but played a significant role in shaping the culture of Austin. Recent additions include artist Micael Priest, who painted some of the mural itself, Ann Richards, Lady Bird Johnson, Henry Gonzales, and the Hawaiian Prince Jimmy Hughes.
KERRY: We thought it might last maybe five or 10 years. With Austin changing so much it's like, why keep this hippie mural up here?
RICK: I'm glad it has stayed, and we can keep bringing art to the people.”