Mural Magic

An internationally acclaimed artist embraces Oklahoma’s history and culture in his works.

Photo courtesy Bob Palmer
Bob Palmer has painted murals across the state, including those at Sequoyah Middle School in Edmond. Photos courtesy Bob Palmer

Art lovers can find Bob Palmer’s 2,500-plus murals worldwide, from Canada and Mexico to Macedonia and Croatia, but his history-steeped work in Oklahoma has captured and kept this artist’s heart for the past quarter-century.

Palmer is the man to call to create murals everywhere from Bass Pro Shops to the House chamber in the state Capitol. He and his team can be in and out in a week – not counting design consultation and prep time – to create works that leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.

The passion for murals all started with friends, family and working for free.

“In the beginning, I was a graduate student at East Tennessee State,” Palmer says. “I was a painting and photography double major, but found I love working large. My wife and I got the idea to do a mural in the dorm lobby, and that was our first big project. We continued to do murals, often for free, as I was teaching in high school and junior college. But when we moved back to Oklahoma, it really took off, and that’s what I’m still doing, 26 years later.”

Photo courtesy Bob Palmer

Palmer credits his long-term, professional, 15-member team – many of whom are his former students – for the smooth execution of his murals. But his wife is his “greatest critic and supporter,” he says. “She’s the perfect complement to an artist, as she doesn’t pick up a paint brush but she has the business savvy and organization skills to keep us going.”

The process starts with a phone call to Palmer, followed by a site visit. Often, clients don’t know exactly what they want, so Palmer uses his expertise to guide. As his work is highly sought after by history buffs in the state, many of his murals are historically based, although “some are just plain fun,” he says.

The vast majority of those who view a Palmer mural love it – but the history better be accurate.

“I help those commissioning the work research the image for the topic,” he says. “You just better do your homework and then some when it comes to public art.”

Choosing a favorite work of his own isn’t easy, but Palmer concedes: “I love the Oklahoma Centennial Mural in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown. It’s become iconic with movies and television shows shot in front. And it was “great fun” painting in the Capitol, but there is nothing like small-town Oklahoma.

Photo courtesy Bob Palmer

“You can’t beat the small towns in this state,” he says. “I’ve been all over, and I can tell you these are the nicest, salt of the earth people. They feed us, hang out with us and treat us like royalty. When you’re blessed to put an image in a school or church or hospital … you feel like you’ve contributed to the quality of life.”

Palmer mural prices fall in a range with a minimum fee of $1,000 for a day’s work. For dangerous projects like a 120-foot-high grain elevator, costs rise to accommodate insurance and equipment.

The artist exclusively uses Tulsa-manufactured Anchor paint. When not creating public art, Palmer, who has a doctorate in education, can be found teaching in the University of Central Oklahoma’s art department.

Tracy LeGrand
Author: Tracy LeGrand