Save Our Murals seeks stories, artists

2014-08-29T00:15:00Z 2014-11-08T09:05:50Z Save Our Murals seeks stories, artistsBy JACI WEBB The Billings Gazette

Just after World War II, the first murals went up at Senior High.

In 1948, Senior art teacher Earl Bailey envisioned the dark walls covered in colorful scenes. It was a great opportunity for his students to leave their mark, but beyond Bailey’s hopes, the murals chronicle the history of the last 60 years through the eyes of teenagers.

There are more than 100 murals, depicting everything from the Beatles to a mushroom cloud and terror-filled faces in an anti-war mural painted in 1984.

One of the most controversial murals was painted by Missoula artist Dirk Lee in 1967. The round collage, “Political and Moral Rights and Wrongs,” depicts an interracial couple and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, leading to some criticism of the work since it went up almost five decades ago. Yet it has never been painted over or edited.

Some of the murals were painted by students who went on to successful careers in art. They include William E. Luckey, who painted a mural in 1953 of the 1877 battle between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Army at Canyon Creek, before he went on to create Woody for Pixar’s “Toy Story.”

Over the years some of the murals have been damaged because of construction or deterioration.

L.A. filmmaker John Dahl, who graduated from Senior in 1974, has lamented the fact that most of his mural from the 1970s has been painted over.

The focus of the new Save our Murals campaign is to raise money to publish a book about the murals with the targeted release date of May 2015. Proceeds from book sales will help fund an effort to preserve, renovate, restore and enhance the murals. If you have information about the murals, contact Keup at

Faculty members, students and alumni of Senior High are at the helm of this committee. For senior Hannah Lose, the project is her magnum opus at Senior. As an honor student, she is working on the book as her project for the Platinum Program.

“It was in my junior year that I started thinking how cool it would be to do something on the murals,” Lose said. “I was looking at a story in National Geographic, ‘Humans of New York,’ and I thought we could tell the stories about the artists who painted the murals.”

Her community liaison on the project is former Senior High teacher Kristeen Keup, who graduated from Senior in 1964. Keup said the murals are an important part of the school’s history.

“At one point, they were starting to paint over the murals and (history teacher) Scott McCulloch and I got up in arms,” Keup said. “We knew they really needed to be preserved.”

Keup and Lose are trying to contact as many of the artists as they can and they are looking for help finding them.

“The hardest ones to find are artists who painted the murals in

the 1950s and earlier and the women because most of them have different names,” Lose said.

Lose said she is also looking for the back stories about the murals to put them in context of the times they were made. Her favorite mural shows the surface of the moon with a spaceship ready to land. It was painted in 1969 by Stan Walthall, who said he wanted to show his “fascination with the conquest of space,” according to the book, “Through These Doors: 50 Years of Excellence,” published in 1989 on the school’s 50th anniversary.

Keup is celebrating her 50th class reunion this weekend, and she plans to reach out to former classmates to find artists and raise money for the book.

“One hundred students are signed up for the reunion out of Senior and another 80 from West,” Keup said. “We are expecting a good turnout.”

Plans are to auction off artwork donated by area artists and to auction a banner signed by all of the attendees.

Saving the Senior high murals and preserving the stories of the artists are important ways to help the school celebrate its 75th anniversary.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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