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Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Map, a Mural, & a Mystery


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Here at the Emily Fowler Central Library, there is a large historical map hanging on the wall over the fireplace. It is a pretty unique work of art but we had limited knowledge of its history. I figured it would be an easy project to research. Little did I know I would uncover a mystery. The painting of the historical mural we see today is actually the second adaptation of a map created by Sena Mounts Wright* in 1936. (But that’s not the mystery.)

The map drawn by Ms. Wright is a historical pictorial map of Denton County.  She based her map on one made by W.H. Pierce, an early surveyor.  Ms. Wright added artwork that identifies the four sites of the county seat, the early settlements with dates, trails, schools, wildlife, and the streams and creeks. A few other samples of her work can be found online on the Portal to Texas History.

Ms. Grady’s mural, based on Sena Mount Wrights map, on the wall behind the
front desk in the Denton Library opened 1949.
From the Denton Public Library collection on the Portal to Texas History.

Close up of the mural painted in 1949.
From the Denton Public Library collection on the Portal to Texas History.

When the first stand-alone library building was being built in 1949 one of the unique features planned for the building was a mural, which featured a color replica of Ms. Wright’s map.  According to an article from the January 26, 1949 issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle, the mural was commissioned by the Parent-Teacher Association and was painted by Mrs. Irene Grady on the wall behind the front desk in the main foyer of the library. Ms. Grady added a border to each side of the map depicting the old cattle brands of Denton County. These brands are listed on the front of The Geography of Denton County which was written in 1936 by Mary Jo Cowling, a faculty member at North Texas State Teachers College (NTSC), which is now called the University of North Texas.

For those readers who are railroad aficionados, Ms. Grady and her husband, Seymour, also painted the murals on the interior of the remodeled Texas and Pacific passenger depot in 1948. The Grady’s owned a furniture renovation business in town, The Denton Color House.

Ms. Noel’s painting, based on Sena Mount Wright’s map and Ms. Grady’s mural,
on the wall behind the front desk in the Denton Library, remodeled in 1969.
From the Denton Public Library Collection.

Well, progress waits for no one, or in this case, for artwork. When the library was expanded in 1969 the mural was on a wall that had to be demolished. The library explored different ways to save it: from removal to a photographic reproduction; all were cost-prohibitive. Miss Tommye Noel repainted the map and brands featured in the mural and donated her work to the library in memory of Otis Fowler, Emily’s husband. The new painting was not done on a wall but on a board and framed in a bookcase which held materials and books about Denton and books by Denton authors. As before, the historical map welcomed visitors to the library from behind the front desk in the main foyer. Interestingly, upon close inspection, Ms. Noel’s interpretation of Ms. Wright’s map is truer to the original than Ms. Grady’s.

As the library has gone through various expansions and remodeling, the painting of the historical map has been located in different areas of the building. After the 1981 expansion of the building, it hung on the wall in the Texas Room, which at the time housed the Texas and Denton historical materials. It is now once again in the lobby of the Emily Fowler Central Library visible to all on the wall above the fireplace.

Miss Tommye Noel’s painting. Photograph taken in 2019.

As a side note, in 2007 Christie Wood created a stained glass fireplace screen featuring the Denton County Courthouse on the square and echoing the early county cattle brands as a companion piece to the painting of the Historical Map.

So where is the mystery in all this? It is way back in that January 26, 1949 article from the DRC. The article contains the following statement:

“This historical mural is one of four planned by several Denton artist in 1935. Included in this group were Mr. and Mrs. Crow Wright, Rudolph Fuchs, Alexandre Hogue, now of Dallas, Milton Martin, now of California, Myron Stout, now in Hawaii, and Mrs. Margaret Paterson. Designs of mural number three were made by Martin. Later these designs were scaled by measurement by Mrs. William W. Wright, 403 Mounts (Street), to a Denton County map made by W. H. Pierce, who was one of Denton’s early surveyors and printed as a historical map of Denton County. All four murals made by the artist were creative designs drawn from readings in Bates’ Denton County History.”

I have yet to find any other mention of this series of four historical murals. Not in the newspapers nor in the written histories. Local historians haven’t heard or seen them. The article makes it sound like they were actually created, and Ms. Wright used elements from the murals to create her pictorial map, but what happened to the originals?  Have you seen them? Could they be in your attic?


*Sena Alleen Mounts was born in Denton on December 13, 1875, to Martha Elizabeth Haynes and William Henry Mounts. She was salutatorian of Denton High School’s class of 1892 and continued her education on scholarship at Sam Houston Normal in Huntsville. She was a teacher before she married William Wesley Wright in 1896; worked with Miss Beulah Harris of NTSC to establish the first Girl Scout commission in Denton; and was a charter member of Denton’s first parent-teachers’ organization, the Denton Historical Association and the Benjamin Lyon Chapter DAR. Ms. Wright died in Denton on December 22, 1952, and is entombed in the Wright Mausoleum at I.O.O.F. Cemetery.

*In 1936 Texas celebrated its Centennial

  • Behind the Murals: Depot Decorated by Artist Couple. Denton Record-Chronicle. September 19, 1948, Page 6-3.
  • County Library to Have Mural of Historical Map, Denton Record-Chronicle. January 26, 1949, Page 7.
  • Library Notes, Denton Record-Chronicle. July 30, 1967.
  • Library Notes, Denton Record-Chronicle. February 2, 1968, page 2-7.

Laura Douglas
Special Collections Librarian
Emily Fowler Central Library

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