A cadre of local artists is resurrecting the historic mural that characterized the east side of the Montrose gay bar formerly known as Mary's, Naturally. The Westheimer property was acquired by Anvil's Bobby Heugel as a parking lot for the upcoming Hay Merchant and Chris Shepherd's Underbelly, but the site's owners have guaranteed that the historic building will remain standing.
As a tribute to the original mural's camp appeal, artists Cody Ledvina, Lane Haygood and Seth Alverson are reapplying a rendition of the original mural in time for Saturday's Houston Pride Parade.
The original mural was a vision of campy homosexual debauchery, featuring hairy muscle studs with Levi's-busting crotches — often the depictions of Mary's regulars. As a result of a new graffiti ordinance, the mural was painted over in May 2006, and after four decades of service, Mary's closed forever in 2009. Still, the iconic stature of the mural persisted in Montrose denizens' collective memory.
"I remember it being the beacon when I first moved to Montrose," says Ledvina, who is also at the helm of the neighborhood art collaborative, The Joanna and the Montrose Improvement Bureau. "I know that it was stereotypical and blown out of normal proportions, but it was something that you could look at and smile. It was just a little ridiculous, and I love that. And I love that everyone connected to it."
The Joanna had initially planned to illegally wheat paste an image of the original Mary's mural on the building, but after talking with Heugel, the idea was given legitimacy and a new medium. The team began yesterday removing the street art that has accumulated on the whitewashed surface, revealing an intact depiction of a cat perched on a barstool.
According to lore, that pet portrait represented Mr. Balls, a bar cat infamous for his large testicles. Mr. Balls occupied his own exalted barstool for an entire decade, effectively overseeing the arc of gay liberation excess and the onset of AIDS. This evening at 8 p.m., the artists will project an image of the original mural onto the wall. "The cat's going to be our guide," says Ledvina.
"There are a lot of theories behind the original mural," he tells CultureMap. "Last night when we were taking down the wheat paste, people walked up and talked about their stories. One guy came up on a motorized wheelchair and said that he used to swing his big dick in there."
Ledvina invites anyone with tales relating to the original Mary's to share them.
It's this history and authenticity that drew Ledvina to the project, and inspires him to advocate for the second mural's permanence. "The city of Houston doesn't have many notable public art spaces," he says. "Where there is public art, it's big, steel and oppressive. This is the opposite — it's open, democratic and fun. It's sort of like a crazy uncle. Nobody takes him too seriously."
Ledvina & Co. are inviting the public to assist in painting the reinvigorated Mary's mural this week before the paint dries for Saturday night's parade. Bring your paintbrush to 1100 Westheimer on Tuesday afternoon. For details, contact Ledvina at 713-825-1803 or email@example.com.