I went to Fresno to visit my sister and help paint her kitchen, and while there we took a break to head down the road to a little town called Exeter. It's about an hour south-east of Fresno, heading towards Sequoia National park. Amazingly, even through the smoggy haze, we could see the snow capped Sierras, something that used to be a normal sight years ago.
Exeter was founded in the late 1880s as a center for orange and grape growing and for years it sorta just chugged along, a dusty little old town of 10,000 souls with downtown streets with head-in parking. A sweet, friendly little place of small businesses, including this wonderful old-timey hardware store with a great selection of nuts and bolts and high-end cookware.
Then, according to my informant in the old fashioned ice cream parlor, a building in the middle of town burned down and the lot sat empty for some time. Without really being planned, the vacant lot sort of turned into a public park, a public gathering place.
And somebody -- the Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Club, Kiwanis, and other civic clubs-- found out about a town up in Oregon that turned itself around by filling the town with murals. So in 1996, on the side of the building next to the de facto public park, there appeared the first mural.
|"Orange Harvest," by Colleen Mitchen-Veyna and Morgan McCall (1996)|
And then, before you knew it, more money was raised, more murals appeared. Soon, businesses revived, restaurants and coffee shops appeared along with antique stores, unique clothing stores, an old timey ice cream parlor, and the visitors arrived to gawk and admire and wander about. And spend money. Perfect example of how art can bring life back to a dusty town.
|"Mineral King; In Our Back Yard" by Jana Botkin. (2009)|
|"Timber Trail," by Martin Weekly (2001)|
If you're in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by to see the little town that figured out that surrounding yourself with beauty brings not only joy but civic pride. And money. And as too many cities watch as their civic centers rot away, here's a community that discovered the power of the paintbrush.
|"Exeter Centennial 1911-2011," by Steven Ball. Commemorates Exeter's 100th anniversary, depicts Pine St. Circa 1911.|