The following piece was published March 2012 in Forty Acres of Fun, a collection of articles on the University of Texas edited by Dave Garlock.
Many locals will tell you the quickest way to discover the heart and history of the Austin community is to simply take a stroll down the Drag on Guadalupe Street and look at the “Austintatious” mural at the Renaissance Market, around the corner from the Co-op.
The mural, one of three at the market, was created in 1974 by local artists Kerry Awn, Tommy Bee, and Rick Turner. It includes many well-known Austin characteristics, as well as caricatures of local celebrities who each left their mark (literally) on the city.
Awn says he is not sure he even remembers the stories behind all the characters anymore, but a squatting computer guru seems to be Michael Dell, and a naked actor running with bongo drums is surely Matthew McConaughey. Curmudgeon Statesman humor columnist John Kelso is easy to spot and Hank Hill is seen riding his mower across the mural, a nod to local icon Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Beavis and Butt-Head).
Musical icons such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm are prominent.
A variety of local panhandlers, artists and preachers seem as topical today as ever. At least one of the topless women seems to be coming from Hippie Hollow.
According to Awn, a former University of Texas student and star of the iconic Austin vaudeville troupe, Esther’s Follies, the idea to create a comical depiction of Austin originated when Awn and two of his friends decided to add a little color to the otherwise “ugly wall” outside of the Co-op.
They began by incorporating memorable landmarks from around the city, including places like Dirty Martin’s Hamburgers, The Driskill, The Ritz, Sandy’s Custard, Matt’s El Rancho, the Broken Spoke, Esther’s Follies and the Vulcan Gas Company (Austin’s first rock club). They continued this trend until the wall was splashed with a plethora of pictures representing Austin’s eclectic culture.
Stephen F. Austin, the city’s historical namesake, stands proudly in the center of the mural with a violet crown above his head, inspired by Austin’s majestic evening skies (O. Henry once dubbed Austin “the city of the Violet Crown,” and the name has stuck for more than a century).
Surrounding the crowned Texas hero on both sides are the Texas State Capitol and the UT Tower, two of the most recognizable landmarks in Austin. Other key components of the mural include depictions of the University Co-op, the Littlefield House on campus, an Austin Moon Tower and the Continental Club (featuring iconic singer Toni Price).
The colorful painting is a perfect attraction for the Renaissance Market vendors, who spend hours each week showcasing their unique items to interested shoppers, few of whom seem to know how or why the mural came to life.
The icons “all do have a little story in them,” Awn remarks. “Only a few of us actually know what those stories are.”
One of the most interesting ones is Roland DeNoie, the so-called founder of the Renaissance Market, who now resides on the bottom, right-hand side of the mural, depicted as a bearded man standing next to a cart with a mushroom on it.
DeNoie apparently ran a small food business out of his cart during the 1970s and was very much admired by the student body. Despite battles with UT and the city’s Health Department, he continued to produce his Salvation Sandwiches until his death in the 1980s.
The three Austintatious Artists have refurbished and updated the Renaissance Market Mural over the years, adding a few more relevant icons, such as the LBJ Library and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
When asked about his favorite illustration on the wall, Awn thought a bit before mentioning an Austin musician: “Doug Sahm, one of my personal heroes! He made it cool to be a Texan and to be able to do ‘your thing’ in Texas. Back in the 70’s, the world didn’t know about Austin, and Texas was thought of as a backward redneck state. Doug made it okay to stay in Texas and do your art.”