Mural masterpiece

8:06 pm Profiles

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)

Pride and a new vision bring a seasoned artist back to his original creation on a butcher shop wall.

BYLINE: Dawn Shurmaitis, Special to the Star-Telegram

The Michelangelo of Mansfield Highway is at it again.
He squints one brown eye. Sticks out one flat thumb.

Frowns.

“I’ve got to highlight the clouds more. Shadow in over here,” said
artist Pete Foster about the Arizona scene he is creating on the
concrete side of The Butcher Shop.

Painting sure and fast, Foster fills in rough charcoal outlines of
yucca, cactus, cows and cowboys with just-mixed splashes of brilliant
red, lush green and warm yellow.

“I just buy five colors, and I can make anything I want to,” he
said, gesturing to ever-blooming cactus and lifelike prickly pears.

Foster has labored over the mural for two months, working from a
shopping cart crowded with plastic pots of paint and a cardboard box
of long-handled, soft-haired brushes.

It’s the second time he has painted this particular wall on this
particular butcher shop at 4016 Mansfield Highway. Artistic pride and
a new vision propelled him back to a job he first tackled in 1981.

Twelve feet high, the dreamy scene stretches 60 feet across. It’s
just one of dozens of murals the 70-year-old artist has created in
the past 25 years.

He has painted, it would seem, half the country: bald eagles in
Oklahoma, stagecoaches in Ardmore, pastures in Tampa.

One theme persists: the Wild West.

The half-Cherokee returns again and again to bull-chested
longhorns, coal-powered locomotives and dust-covered cowpokes.

“I do big stuff,” he said, tossing back black hair arranged in an
Elvis do.

Foster speaks quickly in a pure Texas twang, punctuating each
sentence with a tug on the arm, a poke in the shoulder or a tap to
the forehead.

Paint fills the creases criss-crossing his sun-worn hands and face
and dots his sturdy leather shoes.

Paint colors his dreams.

“You either got it or you hadn’t,” he said, insisting that his
talent comes naturally. He said he never took an art lesson.

With prompting, his life story tumbles out. Denton born. Adopted.

Daddy was in aircraft. Mama had money. Sign painter. Mural maker.

Music man – mostly steel guitar.

“You’re gonna be shocked. Lookee here,” he said, pulling out a
well-thumbed portfolio containing his life story.

The proudest moment in his long career came in Denver in 1985. He
earned $ 30,000 for painting a 280-foot-long train scene inside Union
Station.

He won’t say what he’s earning for this particular job, insisting
he doesn’t need money and makes do on Social Security. But over the
years, he said, he’s ridden in Cadillac limosines and outspent
millionaires.

As he talks, he slips in the names of the famous and near-famous
he has met over the years.

Jimmy Carter’s mother. Dolly Parton’s manager. Florida’s governor.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

“Hon, I’ve been around,” the wiry Texan said, pointing to a
picture in his portfolio of a cafe he painted where Bonnie and Clyde
(and later Faye and Warren) once visited.

It hasn’t been easy, he said, making no apologies for his
often-wicked ways, speaking bluntly of past troubles.

Hard liquor. Cocaine. Hepatitis. Almost died in ‘88.

“Lots of people haven’t seen me in a while. They probably think
I’m still on liquor,” he said. “But I’ve been sober for years. ”

As much as he talks about himself, Foster talks more about the
butcher shop’s owners, Don and Mary Dilks, who will have been married
36 years next month and are the parents of two and grandparents of
four.

“These people here mean more to me than all the painting in the
world,” said, Foster, who has been married once and single for a long
time. “They are family for sure. ”

The couple and the artist met years back, after Mary Dilks,
herself an artist, painted a mural of a chuck wagon inside the shop.

Customers, who daily pack the store for meatloaf, chicken-fried
steak, bologna, foot-longs and the largest selection of smoked meats
in the area, responded.

Soon, more artwork – most of it Foster’s – covered nearly every
available inch of concrete outside.

Eventually, Foster took off and wandered the country. And painted.

But North Texas pulled him back. He returned, paintbrush in hand
and new visions in his head.

“I’m 71 next May,” he said. “One day, I’d like to do a big
coliseum or a stadium. That there would be pretty good. “

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