You might not expect to see a lot of graffiti in Keller. The once heavily agricultural town is now an affluent suburb, with housing complexes, small restaurants, and lots of parks. But recently, rogue artists have begun peppering the town with hidden displays of creativity. Last Wednesday, a painting of a doe was discovered within the depths of a trail tunnel beneath Bear Creek Parkway. Over the weekend, the artist returned, this time to create an armadillo.
Mike Sexton, who heads up the landscape crew for the City of Keller, said in an email that he was walking by the tunnel that morning when he spotted the doe out of the corner of his eye.
“I’ve worked for the parks crew for 16 years and never seen anything like it,” he said. “It’s the coolest graffiti I’ve ever come across and the first one I’ve recommended not painting over.”
Graffiti isn’t new to the Keller trail system, according to Sexton, and Parks Maintenance and Development Manager Gary Davis said parks crewmembers typically paint over it. Often, Sexton said, cases of graffiti increase when the public schools go on break. The phenomenon is so consistent, Sexton refers to school holidays as “graffiti seasons,” during which time crews clean up graffiti roughly twice a week.
Sexton took a photo of the doe and sent it to Davis, remarking on the beauty of the work. Sexton was relieved when Davis told him not to paint over the painting.
“I made an exception for it because it was so beautiful,” Davis said.
Usually, Sexton added, the graffiti they find is “negative or just dumb stuff. To have someone actually create art? I was in awe. This was something positive, and whoever did it is really good.”
The piece is also unusual because it was done with a brush instead of spray paint. The doe is cleanly executed, with layers of shading and steady strokes, suggesting the artist is rather familiar with the medium.
On Wednesday, the city posted an image of the piece on Keller’s Facebook page. Rachel Reynolds, the Keller spokesperson who also runs the page, asked the artist to come forward, not to face the wrath of the Parks Department but to discuss the possibility of expanding the piece into a mural.
Davis added that he hopes the artist will make his- or herself known, so locals and city officials can shown their appreciation.
“Anybody that’s that talented should be recognized,” he said.
Citizens responded to the Facebook post with enthusiasm, praising the city for leaving the piece intact. However, some users were suspicious that the post was a trap, intended to lure the artist into confessing to criminal activity. Reynolds denied the accusations, assuring readers that the offer is anything but nefarious.
Davis agreed. “We’ve heard rumors that [some citizens] think it’s a set-up,” he said, chuckling, “but, no, we’re not going to punish anybody. We may have more work for the person.”
According to the Keller Police Department, punitive graffiti charges vary from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the cost of the damage done to the property and the number of offenses. A felony charge could carry jail time, if the graffiti had been made on a school, an institution of higher learning, a place of worship/burial, public monument, or a community center providing special programs. Had the city intended to file charges, this case would likely have been classified as a Class C misdemeanor, according to Reynolds.
Jennifer Sartin was walking her dog with a friend Tuesday night as usual when she first saw the doe. Sartin had seen graffiti along that tunnel wall a few months before, but this time it was different. Sartin said she was elated when she found it and took a photo with her phone. She said she could tell the piece was done by someone with “great talent.”
The doe was “such a wonderful anonymous surprise,” she said, adding that she greatly approves of the city’s decision to keep the painting in place. “I feel that it perfectly portrays Keller as it is a wonderful small town that is willing to venture outside the norm.”
While every town has its share of graffiti, Keller locals are accustomed to finding art in unexpected places. In 2013, small mosaic tile pieces began appearing on street corners and light posts across the western half of the city, as well as in random spots along the Keller/Fort Worth border. The displays, which depict videogame characters and symbols, remain in place. Much like the artist responsible for the doe painting, these artists worked under cover of darkness. They also were later approached by the owners of Lee’s Grilled Cheese, who requested a mural for their restaurant. There is no mural yet.
Sartin, a substance abuse counselor, said she has seen the therapeutic value of art and is hoping the artist comes forward to accept the city’s offer to create a mural. She compares the doe to an act of kindness.
“I think it is a breath of fresh air to see the result of an anonymous person sharing such a beautiful piece with the public [and] expecting no recognition for doing so,” Sartin said.