Garage wall mural honors Tucumcari’s neon past

Emily Priddy chalks in the glow as she prepares a garage wall mural of Tucumcari’s past neon signs.

Emily Priddy chalks in the glow as she prepares a garage wall mural of Tucumcari’s past neon signs.

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

Kevin Mueller, owner of Tucumcari’s Blue Swallow Motel, has a “passion for neon,” he said, as well as for Tucumcari’s history.

To help him show that passion, he has hired Emily Priddy, an artist from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to convert one of the individual unit garages at the Blue Swallow into a tribute to the famous blazing neon of Tucumcari’s past.

Priddy, who is also a journalist, has done her homework.  She has chosen the markers of such places as the Tokom-Cari motel, which featured an Indian chief in full headress and whose name commemorated the tragic characters in the “Legend of Tucumcari,” and the Grande Court, which featured a south-of-the-border theme that included an animated burro.

Priddy’s reconstructions of Tucumcari’s neon history are being painted onto black walls in the garage to bring back the oasis of light that greeted weary travelers on Route 66 a  half-century ago.

Like Mueller, Priddy and her husband Ron Warnick are dedicated to Route 66 history and artifacts.
She and Warnick, she said, are “crazy in love” with the Blue Swallow and have stayed there often.  Warnick maintains a Route 66 news blog, which currently features a shot of Tucumcari Mountain on its front page at www.route66news.com.

When Priddy told Mueller about her technique and showed him some examples, he hired her to produce the garage mural.

Priddy has developed a multi-stage process for reproducing the shining glass and glow of neon lights.

She starts with chalk to do an outline of the glow, then applies paints that define the glow, then the outlines and dazzle of the neon tubes.

All but one of the signs her work will portray are located in Tucumcari, she said.  One, the Western Motel, is located in San Jon.

“Neon is a part of our heritage” in Tucumcari, Mueller said, recalling the days when Tucumcari was famous for neon signs that competed for the attention of travelers on the Mother Road, Route 66.

“Neon lights used to be the way you brought in business,” he said.

Even in Glenrio and Newkirk, both now ghost towns, he said, remnants of neon tubing and the transformers they required are still attached to the chipped and faded signs that once hailed passing tourists to stop for gas, meals or a bed for the night.

In Tucumcari, he said, only a few of the Route 66 signs remain, including the ones that mark the Blue Swallow, and not all of them work all the time.

The garage he said, is an attempt to “recreate some of Tucumcari’s history.”

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