As a part of ongoing improvements to Martin Luther King Park, the city of Denison will include a new mural of the namesake civil rights leader in the project. The 10 foot by 10 foot mural, designed and painted by local mural artist Sydney Sbarbaro, features King along with images connected to his work fighting for civil rights and the start of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
City officials initially planned to unveil the new mural and improvements to the park on Martin Luther King Day, however delays in the delivery of playground equipment for the park have pushed back the unveiling until Feb. 17.
“Our decision came to us ultimately doing the next best thing and February just happens to be Black History Month,” Denison Parks and Recreation Director Chris Mobley said Monday.
Mobley said former Denison Development Services Director Gabe Reaume came up with initial plans for the mural when looking for ways to incorporate public art in Denison parks. This effort later culminated into ongoing plans to incorporate sculptures by University of North Texas art students into other area parks.
“When we were doing this, we thought, ‘How neat would it be to have art of him in the park,’” Mobley said.
The improvements to the park will include new playground equipment, repairs and restoration to the park’s basketball courts, and other improvements, Mobley said. In initial plans for the mural, Mobley said city staff considered painting the mural on the basketball court itself, but concerns about the porous surface led to changes in the plan.
Instead, the mural is painted on a 100-square-foot section of wood that has been treated and weather proofed. An extra piece of fiberglass will be placed on top of the piece to further protect it, Mobley said.
In addition to the mural of King, which will be placed near the entrance to the park, Mobley said the city will also include a plaque in honor of the Black Chamber of Commerce, who deeded the property to the city in 1962. Mobley noted that some of the equipment in the park likely dates back to, or before, the area was granted to the city.
For her part, Sbarbaro said she was approached about the project following word of mouth about the other mural projects she has done in the area. Previously, Sbarbaro was commissioned for murals within the Denison and Van Alstyne Public Libraries and a piece outside of CJ’s Coffee in downtown Denison.
Sbarbaro said she started work on the piece in her free time in November, but a lot of the work was completed in late December. Sbarbaro said she was unaware of the change in unveiling date, but added that she does plan to attend the park reopening in February.
“After talking to a few history teachers, I wanted to bring out that he was a respected figure using things from his past,” Sbarbaro said.
Despite this piece being unlike many of the others she has done in the past, Sbarbaro said she wanted to incorporate her love of vibrant color to the piece. The center of the mural shows a portrait of King in front of the American flag while the Lincoln Memorial and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King preached from 1954 through 1960, flank him from behind.
“He was an American Baptist and minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (depicted in upper left of the mock-up) and helped found and served as the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) (emblem located on bottom right of mock-up) where his earlier work as a civil rights activist occurred,” Sbarbaro wrote in write up of the piece.
“His awards he received over time are laid out on the left hand side of the mock-up, including his Nobel Peace Prize, his Presidential Medal of Freedom and the latest Congressional Gold Medal, since the original was intended to be presented to Coretta (his wife) before she died, and the later one was instead presented to his children and includes Coretta’s face as well,” Sbarbaro continued.
For the piece, Sbarbaro said she did not use one singular picture of King as reference but instead studied multiple pictures from the many speeches he gave during his time as a civil rights leader.
Denison City Council member Bill Malvern said during his youth, Martin Luther King Park was the one most frequented by the city’s African American children.
“I’ve never been much of a basketball player, but I can still remember those courts,” Malvern said.
While he has yet to see the mural itself, Malvern said he thinks it is a good feature for the revitalized park. Beyond the improvements to the park, Malvern said it will be an important reminder of the efforts taken by past generations to ensure the equal rights for today’s generations.
“A lot of youngsters don’t know him outside of the name,” Malvern said of King. “Certainly, they don’t know him in the way my generation does.”