Written by Mandy Shelton, Curriculum Coordinator, Central Texas College Online High School
Originally published in the Greater Killeen Business Quarterly 2017 Fort Hood Guide
The landscape of Killeen was forever changed in 1942, when the U.S. War Department announced the opening of Camp Hood. An initial 108,000 acres of agricultural land was dedicated to training and testing the newly developed tank destroyers for combat in World War II. Fort Hood became a permanent military installation in 1950, ensuring that long after the war’s end, Killeen would continue to be influenced by the military.
In addition to its impact on Killeen and the surrounding areas, World War II left another unexpected legacy.
The paint industry, tasked with manufacturing a million buckets of Olive Drab and Aircraft Gray, sought to make paint more durable in outdoor conditions. The latex paint we use today is a by-product of the synthetic polymers and binders developed in World War II. In a way, the war led to billions of do-it-yourself home improvement projects.
Improved exterior paint meant artists were also able to modernize an ancient medium that goes back at least 20,000 years. Humans first painted cave walls with ocher from the ground and wood ash from the fire pit. From those simple reds, yellows, and blacks smeared on walls, outdoor painting remained relatively unchanged through the modern era.
“But here we are in the 21st century,” said Marty Stanek, Vice President of the Killeen Civic Art Guild, “and since World War II a lot of products were developed, which had by-products that were useful in creating different paints. So today, if you go to the store, you’ll just be dazzled by the myriad types of paints that are on the market.”
Stanek offered this brief history lesson to a group gathered in an empty lot on the corner of Avenue D and Gray Street in downtown Killeen. The volunteer painters were there to help with the city’s newest work of public art, a mural celebrating “Camp Hood to Fort Hood: Killeen’s Rich Military History.”
“I like to say, when you’re painting, have no fear,” Stanek told the novices who joined the effort. “Whatever you paint, we can paint over it.”
Over three months in the fall of 2016, 46 volunteers participated in six community work days, meeting after work and on weekends to paint the military scenes that slowly filled the eastern exterior wall at 223 East Avenue D.
“Either East- or West-facing art, you have to be especially careful for fading,” Stanek said. “This is going to get all morning sun till nearly noon, all year long.” He notes the mural will eventually show some signs of age, but with the careful application of two coats of paint, “it will fade evenly and gracefully.”
The side of the 24,000 ft2 building closest to the mural is currently occupied by the Light House Worship Center. Rev. Dr. B.E. Rosebur, who has led the 54-member congregation for the past two years, welcomed the volunteer painters to the neighborhood. “This is the best mural I’ve ever seen,” Rosebur said. “I’ve been all around the world and I’ve seen nothing like this.”
The mural features a portrait of General John Bell Hood, Fort Hood’s namesake, and includes a scene of the flag-raising at Opening Day of Fort Hood in 1942. “If this wall was a thousand feet long we couldn’t cover half of the rich military history, but we tried to pick some symbols and emblems that were representative of what’s going on,” Stanek said.
Norman Cole, also with the Killeen Civic Art Guild, focused on painting details, from tree lines to horse bridles to the faces of the cavalry members. “We will be diversifying a little bit, because we’re a diverse city,” Cole said. “We had a guy stop by yesterday, he said, ‘Hey, are you going to paint some of those guys buffalo soldiers?’ And I said, ‘We’re going to diversify, but the buffalo soldiers were never at Fort Hood.’” The mural now features African-American members of the cavalry.
“Our detachment actually looks like that,” said Captain Jeremy A. Woodard, Commander of the First Cavalry Horse Detachment. In addition to Latino, Korean, and African-American troops, Woodard added that the detachment currently has four females.
The mural resulted from a partnership between the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce and the City of Killeen. Heights Lumber & Supply and Walmart donated painting supplies. Solix, Inc., a customer care center located two blocks from the site of the mural, made a donation of $8,000 to be used toward the creation of several murals in the downtown revitalization project.
Carolyn Flowers serves as the Operations Manager for Solix’s Killeen location, which opened in January 2014. “Helping people is what we do at our core,” said Flowers, a “born and raised” Killeen native. She and other members of the Killeen office assisted with painting the mural, making use of the company’s paid volunteer program. “It’s refreshing to be able to give,” Flowers said. “This is natural to us.”
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Veterans Day 2016, Flowers told the crowd: “We’re really excited to be participating in and contributing to the resurgence of downtown. This is our home. This mural symbolizes one of the key reasons why Solix chose to open up its office here in Killeen, and it’s the people.”
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra recalled learning about art as a child, and growing up to see art’s influence. “It has an effect on connections, on relationships, on identity,” Segarra said at the Veterans Day event, adding that the mural also succeeds in telling a story. “When you look at it, it tells the story of who we are,” Segarra said. “It creates part of our identity as a city.”
Paint by Numbers
- 3 Volunteers from Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce
- 1 Volunteer from City of Killeen
- 9 Volunteers from Killeen Civic Art Guild
- 19 Volunteers from TAMUCT
- 6 Volunteers from SOLIX
- 10 Volunteers from the community
437 Hours of Painting
- 40 Hours to apply two coats of primer to the wall
- 60 Hours of drawing and transferring the patterns to the wall
- 150 Hours applying two coats of paint on the background of sky, landscape, and buildings
- 187 Hours of detail painting on the unit crests and figures
People often just look at it and wonder, how do they do that?” Said Marty Stanek of the Killeen civic art guild. “We used a couple different methods."
“Some of the common mistakes painters make are they don’t clean the surface,” Stanek said. “Your paint bonds to the dirt, not to the other surface. Time and weather, heat and contraction from the sun, and that paint just lifts off and flakes away.”
“So what we’ve done here is we’ve taken this wall and had it power washed to clean the old surface and we applied two coats of a good exterior primer-sealer that gave us a new white surface to paint on.
“One night we came down with a projector,” Stanek said, recalling the overhead projectors used in the classroom. The Art Guild transferred a historical photo of the Fort Hood flag-raising ceremony to a transparent sheet. “We actually projected that image right on to the wall, took pencils, and quickly sketched out what was there,” Stanek said.
“The other method we use is called pouncing. We use a paper drawn pattern — I borrowed this from the sign trade — and we have a machine that electrically traces the picture.”
The top of the mural displays the words From Camp Hood to Fort Hood: Killeen’s Rich Military History, and the letters were situated through pouncing. “We projected that up on paper, drew it out on pencil, and then we perforated it,” Stanek said.
“For a light surface, you rub charcoal on the lettering, and for a dark surface, like in his whiskers, you rub chalk on the picture of his beard,” he continued, pointing to General John Bell Hood’s facial hair.
“It’s a very effective way to accurately lay out your wall as to what you want to paint,” Stanek said.
The cement blocks that comprise the wall create their own issues. “It’s very porous, there are a lot bumps and holes in it. So you do a little bit of smooth painting and you do a lot of what we call stippling, or just pushing the paint with the end of the brush.”
If These Walls Could Talk: Public Art in Killeen
Located across the street from the new mural, at 320 N. Gray St., the "Hack's Levi's Headquarters" sign has been a staple in Killeen since 1955. The Subway at 1100 Old FM 440 Rd. features an idyllic landscape on the back of the building. Several canine scenes brighten the back fence at Mickey's Dog Park, located within the Community Center Park at 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd. Killeen Power Sports at 3701 E. Central Texas Expy. commissioned artist Hope Overturf to paint racing scenes and local landmarks on the exterior of the building. Extraco Bank's branch at 1002 W Central Texas Expy. installed a 20 x 32 ft military-themed mural created by FastSigns in Waco. Several murals celebrating Killeen's 125th anniversary were painted in 2012 at 2407 E. Rancier Ave., 711 E. Rancier Ave., and 913 W. Veterans Memorial Blvd.