Rockdale’s Glynn Rolan is very much alive, and he’d term himself a painter instead of an artist, but he’s very much been discovered again after his biggest work was literally uncovered 50 years after it was painted.
Rolan and the late Eddie Cook painted the mural which adorned the front wall of the Lucy Hill Patterson Memorial Library from 1963 to 1980, after which it mostly disappeared under a massive renovation and was almost forgotten.
However, some “guardians of the secrets” at the library, notably Librarian Melanie Todd and longtime Friend of the Library volunteer Annette Stone remembered that not all the mural was covered in the 1980 expansion.
Less than half the mural is still visible by lifting tiles in a dropped ceiling of a library storeroom. The mural was the hit of the building’s recent 50-year anniversary. Rolan also recently visited his artwork for the first time decades. “I think I’d always known it wasn’t totally gone,” he said. “It was good to see it again.”
RECRUITED—Rolan’s visit brought back lots of memories, specifically about how the mural was created as Rockdale’s biggest ever “paint by the numbers” project.
No kidding. Rolan and Cook literally set up a projector across the street, threw an image of the mural onto a library wall and painted only in a brief hour or so close to sunset when conditions were right.
Rolan had plenty of experience in house painting in the Midland area before coming to Rockdale, but he was still surprised when the multi-talented Cook asked him to help with the project.
Cook, an assistant Rockdale High School football coach, was interested in the fine arts and volunteered to take on the mural project.
“He came to me with this little transparency like something that went in a slide projector, which was what we had at this time,” Rolan said. “He asked, ‘Glynn, how are we going to put this (the transparency) onto that, and pointed at the library front wall.”
“The architect had designed the mural, it was all kinds of different colors and back then you didn’t buy paint in mixed colors,” Rolan said. “You started with white and mixed colors into there until you got what you wanted.”
THREAD—Rolan thought about it and decided he’d give mural art a try.
“I figured it couldn’t be any harder than some of the kitchens and living rooms I’d painted in West Texas,” he laughed.
“Once this lady said she wanted her room the color of something she had, and brought out a little piece of cloth, maybe an inch across and a few inches long,” he recalled.
“I looked at it and said something about it being so small and she said ‘oh no, not that color, this color!’ and pointed at one thread in the cloth.”
Rolan laughed. “I figured if I could get that right I could do the mural.” The coach and the craftsman went to work, setting up scaffolding across Ackerman Street at what was then Rockdale State Bank.
“Every late afternoon we’d project the mural onto the wall and paint,” Rolan said. “We only had this brief window when the light was right. We had to wait until the sun went down behind the buildings and we had to quit when it got so dark we couldn’t see what we were doing.”
Rolan turned the project quite literally into a “paint by the numbers” set. “I’d numbered all the colors in the thing and that’s how we painted,” he said.
“I got a bunch of these little plastic coffee cups and that’s what we mixed paint in,” he said.
FLOOD—Of course the rest of the library was being finished and the muralists got to work closely with the builders. Sometimes too closely.
“When they were building the wall in the south side, they pronounced it finished and it looked to me like the mortar between the bricks hadn’t set,” Rolan said. “Well, I think what I actually called it was ‘a handful of mush’.”
Roland told the builders the wall needed to be sealed and recommended a clear plastic sealant. But the builders were having none of it.
“It was getting closer to opening, there were a bunch of plants set out and they needed to water them,” Rolan said. “They left a sprinkler going all night.”
“When it started out, it was only hitting the bottom of the building,” he said. “But during the night people quit using water, the pressure in the system went up and it sprayed the whole side.”
“It came through that mortar and about a third of the library got wet, even ruined some books that were in boxes ready to be put on the shelves,” he said.
The somewhat chastened builders came to Rolan and he helped them put the clear plastic sealant on the wall.
GUERNICA—So, here’s the big question. What does the mural mean? It’s certainly not like the mural on the post office wall, across the street from the library, depicting mining, cotton, cattle and other Texas icons.
The library mural isn’t exactly Picasso but it might have more in common with Picasso’s “Guernica,” arguably the most famous mural in the world, than you might think.
Both are composed of a multi- tude of shapes and symbols that take a little work on the part of the viewer to appreciate.
“Guernica” is meant to evoke images from a specific incident in the Spanish Civil War. Ironically, Rolan and Cook’s mural is even more abstract.
“It’s totally symbols, doesn’t really have an interpretation unless the viewer provides one,” Rolan said.
“We figured it was pure art in that sense,” he added. “You get up close and you see each symbol, but you back off and look at the whole thing and maybe it takes on a whole different meaning.”