Sep 6, 2013 12:39 PM by Associated Press
BENSON, Ariz. (AP) - Sitting cross-legged on a cushion, squinting up at an image on a wall at the Benson
Visitor Center, an artist puts finishing touches on a mural.
It's a painting of an old train depot in Benson, the first phase in a series of eight walls Doug
Quarles will be painting that depict the town's historic connection with the railroad. It's a history
that got its start when Southern Pacific Railroad first rumbled through Benson in 1880, spawning
the town that has since been named "Train Town USA" by Union Pacific in recognition of its
support of the railroad industry.
Doug and Sharon Quarles, both artists, recently moved to Benson from Tucumcari, N.M., where
Doug made a name for himself as an accomplished muralist, creating images throughout the
community that highlight Route 66, along with the railroad that once ran through that town and the
area's western heritage. In the 10 years that he and Sharon lived in Tucumcari, Doug painted 40
murals to help revitalize the town of about 5,000, the same population as Benson.
"When the train stopped running through Tucumcari, it left the town depressed, so I had a lot of
walls to work with," Quarles joked. "When I was finished 'painting up' the town, I started looking
for new projects."
Quarles first learned of Benson when a friend told him about a group called "Benson Clean and
Beautiful," a committee of volunteers with a mission to beautify and revitalize their town through a
range of projects. The committee, chaired by Lisa Hill, expressed an interest in launching
historic murals after Hill saw Quarles' work while visiting Lake Placid, Fla., where his murals were
splashed all over town. Impressed by what she saw, Hill returned to Benson and pitched the
mural idea to the committee and everyone was on board. The committee hopes to see the
project take off once Quarles completes his work at the visitor center, with murals on buildings
and businesses all over town.
"As soon as I heard about Benson's mural project, I was interested," said Quarles, whose murals
at the visitor center are primarily funded through the Clean and Beautiful organization. "This
committee has big plans for the project, so we're hoping people in Benson like the murals well
enough to throw their support behind it."
With the visitor center serving as the project's launching point, Quarles is using old photos
provided by Bob Nilson, director of the city's tourism department, for the historic renderings.
Upon completing the train depot, Quarles will be painting different trains that have traveled
through Benson, starting with the Southern Pacific in 1880, proceeding through the years
until present day.
The murals will accompany recently mounted metal railroad logos now displayed on the parking
lot walls of the visitor center, made possible through a $5,000 grant from Union Pacific Railroad.
The logos are of trains that have traveled through Benson at different times, starting with the
Southern Pacific which was part of the town's history from 1880 until 1997, when it was
purchased by Union Pacific. Santa Fe Railroad went from Benson, to Fairbank to Nogales from
1881 to 1898. The El Paso and Southwestern had a presence in Benson from 1901 to 1955.
And finally, there's the Union Pacific Railroad, which travels through the town today. Currently
under construction, are logos for the San Pedro and Southwestern, a short line located in
Benson that travels south to Curtis.
Along with railroad murals, future plans are to have murals scattered throughout Benson, all
depicting the town's history, with walking tours and brochures that tell Benson's colorful
story, Hill said.
The mural project won support from the Benson city council earlier in the summer when Hill
presented the idea for council approval. In addition, the council approved a $1,500 request from
Benson Clean and Beautiful to help pay for the visitor center's murals, with most of the funds for
the project provided by Clean and Beautiful.
Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group and its Executive Director George Scott also
applaud the murals. "The Clean and Beautiful Committee has been around for a number of years
now and has accomplished some really great projects for Benson," said Scott. "I'm glad to see
the committee members are getting organized again and working together on a new project that
everyone is excited about. The murals are a great idea."
Each panel takes about two days for Quarles to complete, with cooperative weather. Working
from copies of old photographs, he creates a grid which he enlarges to the size of the wall he's
working on. With the grid as his guide, he starts out by sketching an image with charcoal and
then paints an outline over the charcoal to protect the sketch from rain. From there, the mural
takes on a life of its own as Quarles works his magic.
While Sharon Quarles is not involved with painting the murals, she works behind the scenes
researching facts to ensure the artistic renderings are historically correct.
"Once people hear about what we're doing in Benson, I'm hoping the murals generate interest in
other areas of Cochise County," said Doug. "After we paint Benson up, we'll look for mural
projects in other communities. Our goal is to paint up the whole county!"