Close Encounters of the Austin Kind

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It was still spring in Austin, in May 2004, when a scuttled trip to the Grand Canyon led me to the Live Music Capital of the World instead. While there was plenty of live music to go around, from First Thursday on South Congress to nearly every burger joint with a deep fryer, the most arresting thing about Austin was its visual identity.

There was architectural eye candy everywhere you looked. And to greet you, dear visitors, in case you didn’t yet feel welcomed enough by the warm Texas hospitality, was a painted mural on the side of neon artist Todd Sanders’ Roadhouse Relics studio, harkening back to the days of road trips and vintage picture post cards, where many a tourist photo has been made before and since.

The retro mural that once welcomed me to Austin has faded over time, but has never stopped being a favorite of tourists, locals and photographers. It’s fitting that the mural’s original artists, Todd Sanders and Rory Skagen, have begun restoring the mural, with help from Creative Action’s Color Squad.

Austin’s unique visual charms, thanks in no small part to creative sign artists like Sanders and Skagen, made it imperative for me to get here as quick as I could. And upon arriving for good just a few months later, to spend the next nine years documenting a Vanishing Austin, as I rejoiced in the occasional win—like this iconic Austin mural.

MORE PHOTOS OF AUSTIN ICONS by Jann Alexander at Like the mural, First Encounter: Greetings from Austin, 2004, was made in the pre-digital era. BUY THE PRINT.

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