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This great horned owl was the last we saw of the bandit graffitist. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Sartin.

The animal graffiti is going the way of the Dodo, after all. On January 18, we broke the story – not the Star-T, contrary to its athletic protestations otherwise – about an artist decorating a part of the Bear Creek Parkway trail tunnel in Keller with hand-painted depictions of local wildlife. The Keller Parks Department loved the work so much, they kept it in place. But after a vandal trashed the paintings with spray paint earlier this month, city officials have changed their minds.

Rachel Reynolds, Keller’s public information officer, said the parks crew had to paint over the paintings after reportedly finding them vandalized with black spray paint the previous night. The city then reminded its 17,520 followers on Facebook of all the naturalist art that had appeared in the trail tunnel since the artist’s first visit on January 11 – the mysterious nighttime painter had returned several times since our initial story was published, adding a turtle, a bird, and a pair of turkeys.

The artist returned not two weeks after the original paintings had been removed. Another painting appeared. The animal of choice: a great horned owl.

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But Reynolds said that the city no longer intends to leave the artist’s future works up, saying the earlier decision to keep them was an experiment, intended to determine whether or not spray paint graffiti –– which has often appeared in the tunnel –– would grind to a halt. The recent vandalism, she said, disproved their earlier theory that graffitists would respect another artist’s work.

“When that didn’t happen, [the city] decided to return to their standard operating procedure of painting over graffiti, fearing it would simply turn into an ongoing cycle of the wildlife art and the attention it was receiving tempting folks to ruin it,” Reynolds said.

After the early paintings were vandalized, locals responded on Facebook with both sadness and anger. Many users urged the city to install security cameras in the tunnel to protect the mystery artist if future paintings should appear.

The city is not planning on installing security cameras in the trail tunnel, Reynolds said, as they might end up being vandalized as well.

“The city has looked at security cameras there and other places along the trail before, but the ease with which they could be painted over or otherwise damaged doesn’t make them a great solution,” Reynolds said. “In this particular case, a camera would also have deterred our original mystery artist.”

Jennifer Sartin, a regular of the trail system, often photographs the tunnel and was the first to notice the paintings were gone. She was a fan of the artist’s work and was upset when she learned of the city’s intention not to keep future paintings.

“I think it’s such a disappointment that Keller is taking this approach,” she said.

When the paintings were first discovered, Sartin considered the city’s support refreshing and indicative of a government that supported local artists. Now she said she feels as though that unique approach is gone.

“Their acceptance of the paintings was so wonderful and now this – just like every other big city,” she said.

Sartin said she and other locals want to see the artist’s work protected in the future.

“Can we not decipher between pieces of art and graffiti?” she said. “Let’s not follow in footsteps of big cities. Let’s keep our small-town feel and, instead of blanket laws against everything, allow for a generous artist to grace our citizens with his creativity.”

Reynolds added that city staff is still interested in meeting the artist to commission a public art project.

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