Monarch Mural: More Than Just A Pretty Picture

by Jensen McKey

Cities around Oklahoma are making new investments in public art and the tiny town of Harrah is no exception.

One of the most recent additions is both art and education. The mural, painted by Oklahoma artist Chris Presley, is on the side of the town’s fire station. It depicts the life cycle and habitat of the endangered monarch butterfly.

“It’s more of an educational type [of mural],” Presley said. “I spent a lot of time trying to get the science Correct. Making sure that what I was depicting was the right way. A little bit more than trying to just make it look pretty.”

Presley is a professional mural painter from Oklahoma City and has been an artist his entire life, and said he has enjoyed murals and creating murals ever since he was a child. He was excited to bring his talents to Harrah, but this mural was more than just a pretty picture.

“A lot of times artists get a lot of leeway on what they call artistic license because, ultimately, you want it to make it look beautiful,” Presley said. “In this case, I had to spend a little bit more time making it more scientifically correct.” 

The Main Street Community Garden in Harrah commissioned Presley in 2021 to paint the mural as an educational piece, to bring awareness to the monarch butterfly.

The community garden began as a way for volunteers to grow fruits and vegetables. It expanded into flowers, native plants and food for pollinators. 

A monarch mural just made sense.

Harrah is in the middle of the migration highway for the monarch, which runs along Interstate 35. 

Monarchs are a major pollinator but are dwindling fast. In the last ten years, the monarchs have dwindled from 22% to 72% depending on the measurement system. Because of that, they have been labeled as endangered.

Presley started the mural process with research. 

He went through hundreds of photos of butterflies and plants before finally settling on the monarch and the milkweed. The milkweed plant is one of the main food sources for the monarch butterfly. 

The mural goes through the life cycle of both the butterfly and its food source. The milkweed is depicted from the pods and flowers to the milkweed’s decay.  

The mural also shows the monarch caterpillar, the chrysalis and the actual butterfly.

 and to the milkweed plant. which  is one of the common food sources for the monarch. 

Before painting Presley started with sketching. 

He took a blank picture of the building and then overlaid his sketches over the picture so the community garden could see what the final product would look like. 

Then Presley took a projector and projected the sketch on the building. 

As word got around about the mural in the small town, Presley soon found himself the center of attention. There was never a shortage of people asking to help.

“People have a lot of questions. A lot of people try to get involved or people want to help out…I like answering questions,” Presley said.

Besides the beauty, the mural has even special significance to the artist. It took much of the summer of 2021 to complete because Presley took time off during the painting when his father died. Presley dedicated the finished masterpiece to his father’s memory.

The mural includes the words “Sweeny Switch” located just below the largest monarch in the scene. This is to pay homage to the fact that Harrah used to be a railway depot and was the stop’s name before the town was incorporated.

If you want to see the mural, you can find it in downtown Harrah near the intersection Main Street and Tim Holt Drive.

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