Liberace and Sammy Davis Jr.? Everyone knows the impact they had on Las Vegas.
But Kenny Kerr, Theodora Boyd, Paul Revere Williams and Betty Willis? Or Oscar Gonzalez, Denise Scott Brown and Raul Rodriguez? They are also cultural pioneers, though learning about their accomplishments may require a deeper dive into local history than most people in southern Nevada.
Fortunately, the Neon Museum has done the research and is honoring these pioneers – and some less animated – on a new mural, “Las Vegas Luminaries”, scheduled for completion in mid-December.
The 808-square-foot mural – which appears on the south wall of the museum’s north gallery – will serve as a pre-show appetizer for patrons waiting to catch the “Brilliant!” ” of the museum. show, which is due to feature a music and video update in mid-December. But the mural will also be the last piece of public art in southern Nevada, visible to anyone, anytime, and free of charge.
Aaron Berger, executive director of the museum, said the pioneers featured on the fresco were selected with the aim of highlighting diverse and under-represented communities and lesser-known people who have helped shape the cultural history of Las Vegas.
The mural features Liberace and Davis, both of whom broke new ground in the Las Vegas entertainment industry. But there’s also Boyd, an African-American showgirl who performed at the Moulin Rouge, and Kerr, whose female impersonator show, “Boylesque,” lasted for years here and was one of the first. advocates for AIDS research and the city’s LGBTQ community, according to the museum.
The mural also depicts Willis, who was one of the few women working in the commercial sign industry in the 1950s when she designed the now iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, notes the museum; and African-American architect Williams, whose work here included Motel La Concha (its lobby now serves as the visitor center for the Neon Museum).
Two literal icons also found spots on the mural: the neon Vegas Vic cowboy, who helped promote Las Vegas to the world, and the Chief Hotel Court sign. The latter “recalls the misuse of indigenous imagery for profit that contrasted sharply with the local Paiute tribes who, at the time of the panel’s design, were deprived of electricity and other basic needs on reserves. of the Vegas area, ”the museum notes.
The mural also pays homage to the art form the museum honors with its portraits of Gonzalez, an American-Mexican neon bender whose work can be seen throughout the valley; Scott Brown, architect and co-author of “Learning From Las Vegas,” a seminal study of Vegas architecture and signs; and Rodriguez, an artist who “designed the iconic pink signage” of the Flamingo, according to the museum.
The mural incorporates images of classic Las Vegas panels, some of which are part of the museum’s collection. Viewers who want to know more about the winners of the mural will be able to access the information with a QR code.
“Now the North Gallery, which houses ‘Brilliant!’, Can (offer) an educational experience, and the mural is a key part of that,” said Berger.
The museum asked married artists Nanda Sharif for and Ali Fathollahi, who came to the United States from Iran in 2012, to design and create the mural. “Some of them are very well known,” Sharif says of the subjects of the fresco, “but I learned a lot when I was introduced to these people I didn’t know. So I think it has a very important educational and cultural value.
His favorite laureates? “I might be a little biased here, but I’m very interested in female figures, just because I’ve always liked to feature female figures in my painting,” Sharif says for.
In 2020, some members of the local arts community publicly questioned the museum’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. The organization has denied these claims.
Berger, who became director of the museum about four months ago, says he does not feel qualified to comment on this episode. “But I can tell you that (the mural project) has not been guided in the past. This is uniquely… a reflection of who we are as an organization and the recognition of who we serve as an audience.
“The museum wants to embrace its diverse audience, and that varies in (diversity) of nationality, ethnicity and gender identity. These are values that the board embraced and looked for in a director, and these are values that are dear to me. “
The mural “recognizes that our community… is diverse and that we need to be a museum where people see themselves in our programs,” says Berger.
Stephen Siwinski, the museum’s project manager, agrees that the purpose of the mural is to “shine a light on our diverse community and the people who have contributed to our cultural scene.”
But, he adds, “there aren’t enough walls in Las Vegas for us to do a mural that would include all of the people who made us who we are today. If we had enough wall we could say thank you to every housekeeper, we could say thank you to every valet. We hope these people can come here and start a conversation about what it means to be a Las Vegas luminary. “
Berger says the mural is “the first of many steps we’re going to take to showcase the key people who have made a significant difference in Las Vegas but who may not be well known.”
What if you’re upset that your favorite notable wasn’t included? Berger also wants to hear from you. Museums should be “the start of dialogue and a place where conversations begin,” he says. “I like it. I look forward to it. I hope people on social media (suggest) that should be included on Mural 2.0.