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Route 66 Mural is a Sign of the Open Highway

If the impact of a mural can be measured by how it interprets its immediate environment, a new piece on Route 66 is a large-scale -- yet modest -- monument to the myth of America's open road.

On a long wall at the California Route 66 Museum, the typographic heavy piece reflects 1930s and 1940s-era graphics, signs, and other artifacts exhibited inside the Victorville museum.

While sharing the visual style of billboards that used to be seen along the highway, the white space reflects away the morning to afternoon heat. It's a nod to a road sign culture in which signs were used as markers measuring a cross-country trip. In this location, it is the corner where travelers turned when coming in and out of the desert.

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There is no social or local message in this mural. It's a style that is a contemporary interpretation of retro road signs, and not unlike another type heavy and well-crafted mural across the street from Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights: the Cerda's Upholstery sign sponsored by Metro during the Gold Line construction.

As for the Route 66 sign, all it tells you about the town is that people have passed through it for decades. It's a postcard. It invites you to take a break from your road trip and step in front of it, to take a photo and document that, while you haven't arrived, you are on your way.

Route 66 Mural I Courtesy of the ArtistOn the mural is a map marking the two California points of entry and departure: Santa Monica and Needles. The middle is the Route 66 shield, the iconic art from the black and white tin sign that is now gone from the highway, but appears on coffee mugs, t-shirts, and painted on the isolated roads adjacent to freeways. The high contrast monochrome is a throwback without being nostalgic, swerving beyond being just a retro design, since it becomes a functional way finder.

It is not far from the mural tradition of community-based content. It's for travelers -- and they deserve it. One has to credit the international road warriors who connect to this highway. In many ways, they appreciate it more than Americans.

On the weekend of this jaunt to the desert, there was a side trip to Bagdad Café that had me discover that the walls of the small stop was stuffed with messages from around the world. A party at the outpost was made from a gang of French tourists who rented Harley-Davidsons and were out experiencing the open road. One biker was from Lyons, and she wore a fashionable head bandana pattered after a U.S. flag. Just as Europeans warmly embrace their history as their national identity, they recognize that Route 66 is this nation's culture and symbolizes its myth.

They also show how the highway off the main interstate is a road to linger on, not just be rushed over: Route 66 was born to be whiled.

French Bikers at Bagdad Cafe I iPhone pic by Ed FuentesThey are also equipped with cameras -- another factor in the Victorville welcome mat. It's designed to keep its aesthetic on social media, says San Bernardino artist and Robb McDermott. He painted the three-section composition to translate through Twitter photos and Instagram. The mural monochrome look is a subconscious connection to Europeans who know the road from old television shows.

It's also painted to endure the High Desert weather by using a mixture of undiluted marine enamels. The wall will be able to take on the heat of the high desert, the dirt from empty lot that fronts the mural, and dust from the highway.

The parcel in front of the mural, which once had the historic Halstead Building until it was razed after a fire two years ago, leaves a sight line from the highway (you hope city fathers consider making it a pocket park, and not a parking lot). Talks about some kind of mural was tossed around since that blaze, but plans sped up when 2012 International Route 66 Festival was awarded to Victorville in December 2011.

While many of the events were held at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds nearby, the California Route 66 Museum is a centerpiece. "Victorville is the weird stepchild of (Route 66) cities," says McDermott, who hopes this is the chance for the city to claim its role as a stop along The Mother Road.

The sign will fade slower than other murals in the area, yet you can see how any weathered ghosting will add to its road credibility.

Like the biker riding with the Parisian Pack wearing a red, white and blue head bandanna to enhance her taking in an American Experience, the mural makes a point that for many Route 66 is the destination.

Above: Route 66 Museum Mural in progress. Route 66 International Festival 2012 is August 9 - 12 in Victorville, California. California Route 66 Museum is located at 16826 D Street in Old Town Victorville.


About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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