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Living Life to the Fullest In Southwest Missouri

Murals in Joplin

Murals in Joplin




See the butterfly in this logo?


joplinmolife logo small pic


When I was creating a logo for this blog about Joplin, I felt compelled to include a butterfly image.

Here’s why.

A butterfly is a classic example of transformation, right? It emerges from its cocoon, spreads its new wings and takes flight, viewing the world below from a different vantage point, and bringing joy to those who witness its delicate dance and vibrant beauty.

Like a butterfly, Joplin has undergone a metamorphosis since 2011. The destructive May 22 tornado forced us to emerge from our cocoon, to see our town in a new way, and to figure out how to bring beauty and joy to a newly-barren landscape.

And we have.

We’ve planted trees and constructed new buildings, encouraged by community pride and hope for our town’s future.

And by Joplin’s murals.

Take a drive down Main Street and you’ll see them. Vibrant images enliven old brick building facades, capturing the dynamic energy of our town as its transformation continues.

These murals remind us of our strength, and inspire us to test our new wings as we soar towards a promising future.



Here’s an overview of must-see murals in Joplin; for more information on each work, click on the green highlighted links.


1. The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight 

(Main and 15th Streets)

This mural has become a symbol of the hopeful spirit of our town, and its butterfly imagery is what inspired the Joplin MO Life logo.

I get goosebumps whenever I drive by it, like I’m experiencing the memories of a child who has survived the tornado, and whose innocent eyes focus on glints of beauty and humanity amid a backdrop of destruction.

And, in a way, I am. Over 200 local children submitted drawings for this project, many of them containing images of the tornado’s aftermath, as well as images of butterflies (as guardian angels, perhaps?).

The final design for this project was created by professional muralist Dave Loewenstein, and was painted with the help of over 15 local artists in 2011.

murals butterfly close

A quote from poet and playwright (and Joplin native) Langston Hughes on the mural’s upper right corner reiterates the message of rebirth: “And trees put forth new leaves to sing in joy beneath the sky.”



2. Rise of the Phoenix

(Main and 17th Streets)

The theme of transformation is continued in this three-panel ceramic mural on the building that houses Phoenix Fired Art, a teaching clay studio and fired art gallery that opened in Joplin in 2012.

murals phoenix center

Designed and constructed by Arkansas ceramicist Trent Talley in 2014, the mural depicts the phases of the pottery-making process, from removing the clay from the earth, firing it in the kiln, then using the final product as art in everyday life (as a dish, etc.).

Here’s a time-lapse video of the first panel’s construction.



3. Celebrating the Performing Arts in Joplin

(Main and 8th Streets)

Installed in 2014, this mural is a showstopper – literally. New York artist Garin Baker’s contemporary realism fills every inch of this 95-by-20-foot work, commanding the attention of everyone traveling down Main Street.

murals performing 1901

The first time I saw this, I thought I was looking at a scene from Baker’s native New York City – until I spotted the sign that reads “Joplin.”

I’m amazed that our small town once supported such a thriving performing arts culture over 100 years ago. Thankfully there’ve been hints of a resurgence of this culture in the past few years, with dance and theatre companies filling their studios and stages with eager and talented students. See these beautiful dancers?

murals performing dancers

They’re students from Joplin’s own Karen’s Dance Studio, and they represent the hope that the future of the performing arts in this town will soon outshine its past.



4. Route 66 Mural Park 

(619 South Main Street)

Cutting through the heart of Joplin, historic Route 66 has introduced countless travelers to our town over the years. To this day, thousands of visitors (especially from Europe and Asia) stop in Joplin each year as they travel along this historic highway on their quest to get a feel for small-town America.

Route 66 Mural Park was established in 2013 to commemorate Joplin’s role in this part of our country’s history.

With two nostalgic murals and an oversized 45 record imprint of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” a visit to Route 66 mural park makes me feel like donning a poodle skirt and cruising the Mother Road.

“The American Ribbon,” a ceramic tile mural that traces the route of Route 66 from start to finish, is accessorized by a peculiar object: a bifurcated 1964 red Corvette.

murals ribbon

Fun photo op! 


Directly above that mural is another mural called “Cruisin’ into Joplin.”

murals cruisin

Both murals were created by Joplin’s own Images in Tile. 



5. City Hall Murals

(602 South Main Street)

Joplin’s City Hall is currently located in the beautiful and historic Newman building, which once housed a thriving department store.

On the first floor, there are several murals that capture the spirit of the Joplin community at pivotal times in our history.

“Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896-1906” was painted in 1973 by Neosho native Thomas Hart Benton, known world-wide for his work in regionalism.

In this mural Benton captures the dynamic energy of Joplin at the height of its mining boom, combining images of hope and possibility (the covered wagon pulling into town) with images of the darker side of success (gambling at the House of Lords saloon).

murals hart benton

How do artists like Benton transform (there’s that word again!) an idea into a captivating piece of art?

The “Evolution of a Mural” exhibit on the mezzanine level of City Hall shows Benton’s rough sketches and notes for his Joplin mural project, offering some insight into his creative process.

murals evolution

(By the way, you can admire several more of Benton’s paintings just an hour away at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.)

When I first saw this next mural, I thought that it was another one of Benton’s works.

murals gude

Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” (2010) shows Joplin in the mid-1900s when the Route 66 culture was in full swing. This regionalist-style mural was actually painted by Benton’s grandson Anthony Benton Gude. Clearly, the Benton family possesses some artistic DNA!

Yet another significant period in Joplin’s history is captured in the mural “Heartstrings of America” (2011), also in City Hall.

murals heart

Like the butterfly mural, this piece reminds me of the strength and compassion of the human spirit. The strings in this mural represent the hometowns of the volunteers who traveled to Joplin to help rebuild our city after the tornado. Look at how those strings stretch all the way around the world!

Okay, the next item is not a mural, but it is another work of art in City Hall.

murals newman

This stained glass window is located on the landing between the first floor and the mezzanine, and it highlights major advancements in science and technology that occurred since the Newman building opened in 1910. That’s a very fitting tribute, considering that this building was the first in Joplin to have electricity and elevators.

The window also serves as a regal backdrop for spontaneous theatrical performances – at least my preschooler thinks so…


6. I Am Joplin

(Main and 6th Streets)

Viewing this mural from a distance, the bold red words “I Am Joplin” jump out from the black and white background.

murals i am far

But when you walk right up to it, you’ll see the faces of over 500 Joplinites printed on aluminum panels.

murals i am close

Designed in 2013 by Art Feeds as a “love letter to Joplin,” this project recruited Joplin residents to complete the sentence “I Am…” in relation to their role in the community. Kevin Deems Photography snapped the photos of people holding up signs with their completed sentences.

This mural reminds me of a quilt, with each person contributing a bit of his or her unique personality to create a representation of the fabric of our community.

See a time-lapse video of this project video here.


7. Downtown Joplin Gateway Mural

(Main and A/B Streets)

On the north edge of downtown Joplin, tattered old billboards have been transformed into brightly-hued murals – thanks to the hard work and talent of area college students.

murals jomo

It took 15 months and over 1,000 hours for art students from Missouri State Southern University to complete this project in 2014.

One mural welcomes travelers into town; the other shows scenes of downtown Joplin from the 1920s to the present, and is anchored by the image of George A. Spiva (the leading force in organizing the Joplin arts community in the 20th century).

murals feature 5


8. Belonging to All the Hands Who Build 

(Northwest corner of Broadway and Mineral Streets)

You’ll have to backtrack a bit to see this 60-foot mural in Joplin’s East Town section, but it will be worth it. If you’re following the tour in numerical order, you’ll head east on Broadway (old Route 66), and you’ll need to turn left on Mineral in order to see the mural because it is painted on the east side of the historic Earl Smith grocery store building.

murals belonging full mural

East Town is the only historical African American neighborhood in Joplin, and its residents came together  in 2016 to create this mural which tells their own stories, as well as those of important African American figures in Joplin’s history.

murals belonging hummingbird

The first time I saw it, I was awed by its simple beauty. Pink magnolia blossoms and graceful hummingbirds share the space with prominent figures in East Town history.

murals belonging key

On the lower right side of the mural, there is a key to the people depicted in the mural:

1. Betty Smith: Current East Town resident who is passionate about preserving this neighborhood’s history.

2. Melissa Cuther: Schoolteacher who helped the Duke Ellington Orchestra find housing when they came to Joplin because no area hotels would allow them to stay because of the color of their skin.

3. Duke Ellington Orchestra

4. Marion Dial: Principal of Lincoln High School, which provided education for African Americans before desegregation.

5. Clovis Steele/Buddie Mitchell: Clovis wrote a book about growing up in East Town. Buddie is his nephew and current neighborhood resident.

6. Marvin McMillan and Nellie: Marvin is a Lincoln High alumnus and Nellie is his dog.



9. Detour 

(Joplin Welcome Center and Rest Area, I-44, Mile Marker 2)

This is an aptly named mural, since you have to go a bit out of your way to see it. But this innovative mural is definitely worth it.

murals detours 2

Artist Matthew Dehaemers’ inspiration for this project was the familiar license plate game played on family car trips – you know, the game kids used to play before personal electronics came on the scene.

Dehaemers used license plates as a backdrop, paying homage to Joplin’s iconic place in the Route 66 automobile culture.

murals detours 4

He then painted images over the plates. These acrylic latex paintings form the word JOPLIN. (The mural is located in the narrow lobby of the rest stop, and I couldn’t get enough distance to capture a photo of the entire work, so here are the sections.)

murals detours 3

The images on the left side of the mural represent important people (Thomas Hart Benton, Clyde Barrow, Dr. Janet Kavandi, Langston Hughes, and Marlin Perkins) and attractions in the Joplin area, and images on the right side show our area’s natural resources. Read the details here.

This mural is like a gigantic hidden pictures puzzle; it’s as engaging and educational as it is entertaining – a clever way to explore our area’s history in picture form.


In fact, each of the murals offers a snippet of the story of Joplin and its culture: a booming mining town, a bustling Route 66 destination, and – now – a city in the midst of a metamorphosis.

Get ready, world.

We’re stretching our wings.

butterfly pic


See MORE public art in Joplin here, and keep up with all the Joplin arts news by subscribing to Connect2Culture’s weekly newsletter


Want even more? Get the latest information on what to see and do in the area by following Joplin MO Life on Twitter,Pinterest and on Facebook (be sure to both “like” AND “follow” on Facebook in order to see the posts in your feed). Or, sign up for the newsletter at the top part of this post.


This article was commissioned by the Joplin CVB, however the opinions expressed are purely my own. The purpose of Joplin MO Life is to highlight all the best that our area has to offer, and when an article is written about a restaurant, business, attraction, or event, it is because I have had an enjoyable experience and want to share it with others.

Click here to visit the Joplin CVB’s Facebook page.



Living Life to The Fullest!

Joplin MO LifeI love seeking out new experiences and finding places off the beaten path. I started Joplin MO Life in August 2013 as a way to share my discoveries with others in the Joplin community so that they can learn about the resources that exist right in their own backyards.

I have worked in education and event planning, and have always loved to write. I hold a master's degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a bachelor's degree in marketing from Tulane University.


  1. Nice piece, JoplinMO Life Blog! Public art is an essential and revealing component of a community’s personality and culture. Joplin is so lucky to have 30+ pieces of public art! Please share the Joplin Public Art Directory with your readers!

  2. Thanks for the great article. The Gude mural in City Hall and the murals on Main at 15th and 8th (David’s and Garens) are due to the efforts of the Joplin Chambers Arts in Public Places initiative. Those were paid for by proceeds from the Dancing With The Joplin Stars event; another Chamber program.
    The rescheduled Stars event is March 26. People can support the next Arts in Public Places project by going to: Click on Dancing and vote for your favorite couple. All votes ($$) are a tax deductible contribution to support the arts.
    Thank you.

    • I appreciate the information, Rob. Art in Public Places does wonderful things to beautify Joplin!


  1. Visit Joplin Missouri | Blog - […] Route 66 Mural Park (619 South Main Street) […]

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