Drawings and graffiti discovered during renovation of the Cleburne Railroad Museum proved a treat and a mystery, Layland Museum Manager Stephanie Montero said. Montero said that while she’d love to see the mystery aspect solved she also hopes the uncovered art resurfaces once again at some future date.
“Unfortunately, we can’t leave these exposed, much as we’d love to, because we have to put the walls and insulation back in,” Montero said. “But we’re otherwise going to leave them as is. We figure they’ll be a fun surprise for somebody in another 50, 100 years if they ever remodel this building again.”
The found art, located along the north wall of the building, ranges from detailed to roughly sketched.
“As part of renovation workers had to tear a lot of walls down,” Montero said. “And do asbestos remediation because all these mid-century renovations had asbestos. In the process of all that, that’s when these drawings were uncovered.”
Officials shut the railroad museum down in August for renovations. Plans call for increasing the museum’s overall space to about 5,000 square feet of which about 3,400 square feet will be open to the public for exhibit and activity space. The former museum had about 1,000 square feet of public-use space.
The renovation involves expanding into an adjacent, also city owned, building. Those now separate suites fronting North Main Street make up what was once one large facility when the building operated as the Snow Flake Creamery.
“Somewhere in the mid century years this was split into three buildings with a different facade put on the front,” Montero said.
Cleburne resident and historian Mollie Mims noted that Snow Flake is listed in the 1954 city directory but not the 1957 edition.
Snow Flake, according to its 1947 city directory entry offered “Pure as snow pasteurized milk vitamin D homogenized. The listing gives their phone number as 216.
Mack D. Smith, owner of Snow Flake and Jersey Isle Dairy Stores, died in 1958 at the age of 51, Mims added.
“You could buy an ice cream cone, single dip for a nickel or double dip for a dime, and receive a free pass to see a movie at the Esquire Theatre that morning,” Mims said.
Museum officials noticed the artwork shortly after workers uncovered them.
The artist or artists behind them as well as when they were made remains unknown.
“A woman dropped in right before we closed the railroad museum,” Montero said. “She said her husband used one of these buildings or maybe all three after the dairy was divided and remodeled but that he wasn’t the one who originally divided the building up. So maybe there was more than one renovation of this building over the years. I don’t know if workers did the pictures during a renovation. Maybe kids got in here during renovation or sometime in the years after when the buildings were empty. Who knows?”
Much of the graffiti is illegible and/or partially covered by boards still in place as are several of the drawings. The various styles on display indicate different authors among the array of text and pictures covering the wall.
Montero’s best guess is that the art dates from post World War II to mid-’50s
“Definitely very way back when,” Montero said. “The subject matter is very dated.”
The absence of curse words and ’80s style graffiti tagging script also seems to rule out more modern, as in ’70s up, origins.
A provocatively posed woman balancing the moon, or maybe just a large silver orb, in her hand, is the most detailed of the drawings. The woman somewhat resembles Rita Hayworth though it could be anybody, the artist’s girlfriend perhaps.
“Or dream girl,” Montero suggested. “I was calling her a pinup girl but my staff told me I can’t say that anymore because it’s too off color. But that’s what they called them back in those days and pinup girls were not necessarily obscene. I mean it’s a wonderful picture and her outfit is great. But I’m thinking of pictures of like Veronica Lake with her hair falling across her face and a deep side part even though she was blonde and this lady doesn’t really look like that.”
Black lettering spells out the name Evelyne Seals, or Sealy, beside the lady though whether that’s the lady’s name, artist’s name or something unrelated remains unknown.
Nearby is the name Nancy with a still-covered last name though the writing style differs from the Seals signature.
“Maybe early to mid-’50s but looks more ’30s or ’40s,” Montero said. “Because of the style of her shoes and all that. She’s got red nails. There’s also something written on the moon but we can’t really make it out.”
Of interest as well is an airplane, possibly a propeller plane, dropping a bomb, which leads Montero to believe the drawing may be late 40s/early ‘50s vintage.
During a subsequent visit Montero notices additional planes.
“It looks like a whole squadron,” Montero said.
Montero, during that same visit, notices other artwork.
“Oh look,” Montero said pointing out a Picassoesque drawing. “Isn’t that almost like a Popeye creature? I didn’t see that before.”
She next noticed a slightly better drawing nearby.
“Oh, that’s definitely Popeye looking,” Montero said. “I mean this stuff is so fun. There are all sorts of words too but, unfortunately, you can’t make out most of them and we still have no idea how all this happened, or how long ago.”
Nor it seems does anyone else, at least not so far.
Pictures of a couple of the art works posted to the Cleburne Railroad Museum’s Facebook page seeking information garnered several likes but no responses.
“If anyone has information on any of these we would certainly love to hear from them,” Montero said.
For now, however, the pictures and writings remain a mystery and will soon be covered by new walls as work on the renovated museum continues.
Those renovations are scheduled to complete later this year.
“They’ll be covered up again but, like I said earlier, we’re leaving them like they are because, whatever the story behind them, they’re part of this building’s history,” Montero said.