An Iconic Corpus Christi Mural is Given New Life

Second Side of the Sun

An iconic Corpus Christi mural, "Circle in the Sun" is given new life.

a photo of the iconic Corpus Christi mural, "Circle in the Sun" that was digitally recreated and on display at Del Mar College Oso Creek Campus

See the mural displayed on the second floor of the Culinary Arts Building at Del Mar College’s Oso Creek Campus. | Photo provided by Del Mar College

The prominent art scene in South Texas is filled with historical and iconic pieces, many of which have lived several lives throughout the decades. “Circle in the Sun” is one of those iconic pieces that was recently born anew. 

In 1961, “Circle in the Sun” was created by Dot Turner and Joan Allen — they spent over a year drawing sketches for the work, which would eventually be painted at the Corpus Christi International Airport. The piece was conceptualized with the inspiration and influence of 31 “pioneer families” of the Coastal Bend: well-known community leaders, philanthropists and local art advocates. Their significance is sprinkled throughout the mural’s timeline, which takes the viewer on a journey beginning with the influence of Mexican culture to the legendary King Ranch, all the way through to the region’s exploration of oil and gas, the Port of Corpus Christi, fishing and beach communities and the Harbor Bridge.

After nearly four decades, the Corpus Christi International Airport was due to undergo renovations, meaning the piece that travelers so lovingly adored for many years would need to be removed. Given the size and scale of the piece — it spanned an entire wall in the airport — and its relevance to travelers at that time, the gravity of having the piece gone was significant. 

“Anyone who went to the airport during that time, everybody who flew back then, remembers this piece,” said Gilbert Cantu, owner of Can2 Creative Company and part of the restoration team. “The piece was iconic.”

 Officials from the City of Corpus Christi analyzed the feasibility of removing and relocating the piece, but the cost to do so was hefty. “They had to demolish the whole wall,” explained Cantu. “There wasn’t a way to preserve [the piece] because it was painted on the wall.” The Dobson family, owners of Whataburger and longtime community advocates, stepped in to save the mural. The Dobsons agreed to have the work housed in one of their storage facilities off Ayers. 

Demolishers then had to cut out the entire wall in one big piece, transfer it to an 18-wheeler and bring it to storage, where it lived for the next 15 years. When Del Mar College began working with Turner Ramirez Architects on renovations, Philip Ramirez, principal architect and current board chair for the Art Museum of South Texas, suggested giving “Circle in the Sun” a new home at Del Mar College. From there, a restoration team was formed and the process of reviving the mural began.

Immediately it became clear that over time, the wall had deteriorated from lying flat in the storage unit and falling victim to water damage. “If you were to touch it, it would start to crumble,” said Cantu. Because there was no way to physically move the piece, Ramirez hired Cantu to digitally recreate it. 

“I asked Carlos Villareal to take photographs of the original in pieces,” said Cantu, and in a series of high-resolution pictures, Villareal captured the original nuances of the work for Cantu to recreate it while keeping the integrity of the piece. 

Through a multi-step process that took several months, the restoration team successfully produced a digital print replica of the original “Circle in the Sun” mural, complete with the signatures of both artists, which in and of itself is an iconic part of the piece. 

As of last July, the reproduced “Circle of the Sun” digital print is displayed on the second floor of the Culinary Arts Building at Del Mar College’s Oso Creek Campus. The magnitude of the piece is still intact, as it spans its new wall at the college — giving a new space to decades worth of South Texas history and cultural impact in the Coastal Bend community.