It may be the largest art project in the United States.
The hundreds, if not thousands, of yield-sign-sized-signs, sprang up like wildflowers in their heyday, back in the mid-’90s, the originals were bright yellow with black lettering, but sign-artists soon branched out, hand painting works of art and planting them in high-traffic areas where they could be seen for free.
A few years ago the benefactor, Stanley Marsh 3, embroiled in allegations of sexual assault, died.
He was under indictment on 14 charges, including sexual assault of a child, sexual performance by a child and indecency with a child back in 2014.
Those lawsuits were settled out of court, but many of his art projects continue on–Cadillac ranch, of course, and, the signs.
It’s the scavenger hunt which, borrowing a phrase from the very first Stanley Marsh 3 sign, “…Has No End.”
But it does have a beginning, and it all started in the mid-’90s.
For Amarillo Artist Jacob Breeden, a sign was planted in his yard as a teen, as the result of a happy accident.
“They dialed the wrong number,” Breeden says, “But I started talking to them and they told me what they were doing. And so I went and approached my parents and said, hey, these art pieces are going up and about three weeks later Stanley in the crew showed up. They let me pick through a couple of Polaroids. We got one of the probably first hundred signs that went up around Amarillo.”
One of the people who may have set up that sign, Drew Mason, an early member of the Dynamite Museum, who says the goal of the signs was to share art with the common man.
“One of the problems with art is that it’s not really available to the general public. because the general public you know, goes to work and come home and help their kids with homework and they make dinner and eat dinner and go to bed and start the next day–and it’s a time luxury that the average working-class or middle-class family doesn’t have,” Mason says.
For more than two decades, they have delighted and inspired Matthew Williams, an artist, and early member of the Dynamite Museum.
“It was probably the largest public art project. He did roughly three to 5,000 signs, each of them costing around $1,000 apiece, really when you get down to it, and so a big back in the ’90s, he spent millions of dollars on this project,” Williams estimates.
Williams is now an advocate for the signs’ repair and preservation.
“I mean, have a group of volunteers and we go around and if you give us a fee that we’ll like restore your sign or remove it. We’ve done some of that.”
Williams and his volunteers want to preserve the legacy of the signs and the legacy of the hundreds of artists who dreamed them up.
“The real legacy,” Williams says, “is the artists that worked on the project, more than Stanley himself.”
“So if you look at those signs in the right way, it’s a time capsule.” Breeden says, “You know, this is really reflective of what the creative scene in Amarillo was feeling at the time, particularly the sort of young, active, energized, creative scene.”
For now, the sign hunt continues in Amarillo and beyond.