In last week's Observer, we asked for information about the vanished mural of a huge flower that used to grace the side of the old Gus Blass building on Main Street before it was blotted out at some time in the recent past — we don't know exactly when — with a coat of mud brown paint. Such are the ways of progress, though we'd argue that the great bloom's unceremonious dirt nap didn't do a heck of a lot for the city's artistic soul. After our item ran last week, folks came out of the flora like bees, ready to tell tales of the mural's creation and the woman who created it, the artist risking life and limb to turn the gray city skyline into her canvas. The flower (which turns out to have been a hibiscus, not a gardenia as we suggested last week) was painted in the summer of 1980 by Little Rock artist Debra Lynn Moseley and several assistants. A former student of the artist Townsend Wolfe, Moseley grew up on a farm in the Sherwood area. She became interested in creating "mega art" in the late 1970s and eventually set her sights on the blank, north-facing side of the building on Main Street, where — with the help of federal funding secured through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources — she painted the 90-by-120 foot mural. Folks sent us photos showing Moseley and her assistants scrambling over five-story-high scaffolding while working on the massive painting, their bodies tiny even when compared to the center of the blossom. Years later, Moseley went on to design the "Medical Mile" portion of the River Trail just west of the River Market. A friend told us that Moseley — now Debra Moseley-Lord — is "living on the side of a mountain in Colorado." We reached her via the Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo., where she works as exhibits manager.
Mosley-Lord said she was 25 at the time she painted the mural, during what she called "the summer of Little Rock's little spurt of interest in outdoor murals." After planning for three months, she spent another three months in May, June and July of that year actually creating the image during what she called a miserable heat wave, when temperatures rose over 100 degrees every day for a month. "I've always thought big in my thinking about art," she said. "I was really into the mural movement in Europe and on the West Coast, and I was a little frustrated in just how little exposure Arkansans had to things that weren't in a museum. I just simply wanted to try and get something out there. When funding became available, I jumped on it."
Moseley-Lord said she chose the flower because it was something everyone could appreciate. "It was really a matter of juxtaposing the urban environment with the natural environment," she said, "and just that contrast between concrete buildings and an image from nature." Moseley-Lord said the mural lasted much longer than she thought it would, probably because the painting was two stories off the ground where spray-can revisionists couldn't deface it, the north-facing exposure that kept it out of the beating sun and prevailing winds, and the fact that it was a universal image that nobody found offensive. The other large-scale mural painted in Little Rock that summer, Moseley-Lord recalls, didn't even last three years before it was painted over.
"Little Rock is not known as an environment for public art," she said. "I think there was probably an unconscious effort on my part to create something that was an undisputed beautiful image that most people could relate to." Thirty-plus years after she last climbed down from the scaffold, Moseley-Lord doesn't seem sad that her painting is gone, but she does fear for the future of outdoor art. "I hope that idea of public art can remain alive," she said. "With federal funding drying up, there's less chances for people to be able to do it. That may feed into where graffiti art comes in. People need an outlet, and if there's nowhere else to do it, it's sometimes done inappropriately."