Artist Dixie Friend-Gay Receives National Award for Midtown Park Mural

(Photo by Elizabeth Conley for the Houston Chronicle)


The nature-inspired mosaic in Midtown Park has been recognized nationally as one of the Best Public Art Projects by Americans for the Arts. This honor is determined by public art experts in the only national program that awards public arts projects.

The aptly titled ‘Wild Wonderland,’ created by local artist Dixie Friend Gay, is a perfect encapsulation of the wildlife native to Houston–in the first twelve inches above ground level. Friend-Gay is nationally renowned for her depictions of the natural world, and this installation does not disappoint. Viewed from a distance, the realistic detail is impressive, but the closer one gets to the wall, more appreciable the level of complexity becomes.

Inspired by photographs from the artist’s own backyard, stars of the mosaic include a many-tendrilled passionflower blossom, pipevine swallowtail butterflies, an impossibly realistic bumblebee, and (of course) a green anole lizard–complete with his swollen, red throat. A towering mushroom even reveals its intricate gills like a dancer twirling her skirt. Keen gardeners will note the delicate native blooms, a deep purple oxalis, and subtler details in the dense undergrowth of this intricate work.

Not only visually stunning, this mosaic is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, made up of over 800,000 individual pieces of glass painstakingly hand-cut to size. The piece spans an area 12-by-63 feet, and took many months and five sets of hands to install. You don’t have to be a nature lover to marvel at the scale and beauty of this addition to the park.

When Midtown Park was still a vacant lot, designers spent many hours on-site cataloging the existing features of the site and imagining how it could be developed. The one thing absent in their observations was nature; they noted not one single bird or butterfly. The same cannot be said today of the park, where the lush vegetation and water features have created an urban oasis for wildlife and humans alike.

Now, thanks to Friend Gay’s ‘Wild Wonderland,’ the glory of Houston’s natural world has received national recognition. To visit, take the METRORail to the McGowen Station, or enjoy the energy efficient Midtown Park Parking Facility just beneath the park at 2811 Travis Street.