ABC Legacy Portrait Project

The City of Smithville was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for its “Easy as ABC: Arts Bridging Community” project in 2017. The “Legacy Portraits” mural is  one of six public artworks created with funding from the NEA with assistance from many community members. With this funding, the first five portraits were selected and painted. In 2019, the Texas Commission for the Arts awarded a second grant, which provided funds to paint three additional portraits.

These portraits were selected by the community through multiple information seeking events such as online surveys, picnics, and community events. To see the results of the input visit

TCA Legacy Portraits

Three Legacy Portraits were funded in part through the Texas Commission on the Arts: Gene Sampson, Esther Jimenez, and Ada Mae Jones. They were chosen through a two-phase public survey and selection process.

Gene Sampson (1939-2013). An educator, coach, and administrator at SISD for over 30 years, he coached the 1962, Mary A. Brown High School team to win the State Football Championship and State Runner-Up Basketball.

Esther Jimenez (1928-2014). Very active with the Chamber of Commerce, the Hospital Auxiliary, and many other community organizations.

Ada Mae Jones (~1920-2016). Taught at SISD for 35 years, during which time she coordinated the Smithville Colored School Choir, which won many regional competitions. Served on Planning and Zoning, Library Board, and was a foundingmember of the Smithville Homecoming  Committee.

NEA Legacy Portraits

Five portraits were funded in part through a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and were chosen through a two-phase survey and selection process choosing leaders from five different categories of leaders.

Veteran: Floyd “Skip” Hyson (1917-2017). Flew for the air force during World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam, and was promoted to lieutenant Colonel before retiring. Back home in Smithville, Skip was named Outstanding Citizen in 1983 for tireless work with Boy Scouts and other organizations and for donating, along with his wife, Lucille, their historic family home to the Smithville Heritage Society for use as a museum.

Educator: Tommye Dell Culberson (1930-1997). Tommye Dell (Henderson) Culberson was born in Smithville and attended Mary A. Brown Colored School prior to attending Prairie View AM, where she received her educational degree; she later returned there to complete her Master’s degree in Education. She was a highly respected teacher in Math and PE at Mary A. Brown, and later at the integrated Smithville Jr High and High School. She often tutored promising students on her own time. She was a teacher for 31 years in Smithville ISD and served on numerous educational committees and committees for the city and school system improvement. She loved teaching and the community she affectionately called “The Ville”. She believed in the importance of education and being involved to make a difference. In 1957, she married her childhood sweetheart, Clarence “Kissie” Culberson. She served in her beloved church Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church; the MLK Committee, organizing community walks and events; Mary A. Brown Reunion Committee, assisted Hope Float film crews; and Bastrop County Retired Teachers. She served her community faithfully until her death in February 1997.

Creative Community: Joel A. “Old Joe” Cole (1902-1999). Longtime Smithville cattleman, horse trader, rawhide furniture maker, historian, and writer of Western articles. Called “snuff dippin’, sotrytellin’, horse racin’, crap shootin’ Joe Cole.” He lived an independent life, but Joe never forgot his roots, and he surrounded himself with treasures from the past so that important memories would not be lost. He knew were the bodies were buried (literally having documented many of the area’s cemeteries), and knew many stories about the families in the area. He shared those memories in the stories he wrote for True West Magazine. He was a true Smithville character – his great, great grandfather came to the area in 1818 and settled in land that is now Fayette County. He lived in a log cabin that was built in 1840 in Blackjack Springs, which he moved to his place off Old Cistern Road during the 1950s, and for a while used it as a trading post for the antiques he collected over the years.

Chamber “Citizens of the Year” and other Recognized Citizens:
Karen Bell (1954-2009). Karen Bell was citizen of the year in 1984. She dedicated her life to serving the city and citizens of Smithville and was always to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. She was the Library Director of the Smithville Public Library from 1986 until her death in 2009, and president of the Smithville jamboree for decades. She has left a lasting legacy in this community.

Community Leaders: Grover Shade (1891-1968). Mayor of Smithville from the Depression through WWII and the Korean War (1938-1958). Grover S. Shade was born on Feb. 11, 1891 near Cistern, Texas. He was one of 7 children of Dan and Elizabeth Syler Shade His family moved to Smithville in the late 1890s. He attended school in Cistern and Smithville. As a teenager he went to work in the train repair shops for the Katy Railroad. After he took a leave of absence to serve in the Army in WWI he returned to his job with the railroad and continued there until the nationwide shopman’s strike of 1922. He then worked as a welder on pipelines and later had Shade’s Cafe on Main St. in Smithville. In 1932 he married Linnet Brown of Temple, Texas. He served on the Smithville Council in the mid-1930s and was elected Mayor in 1938. He continued as Mayor until 1958. During his tenure, the City built a sewage disposal plant in the early 1950s — one of the first small towns to do this. In the 1940’s he was instrumental in working to purchase an electric utility system from a private company so that Smithville could begin operating their own system.

James Culleton

James Culleton is based in Winnipeg, Canada. Culleton is an inspired designer, who uses his skills as a painter, sculptor, and musician to feed his passion for creativity. Known for his use of blind contour drawing, his work can be seen in many parts of Canada, and in the United States, and the Smithville Cultural District is pleased to have brought this incredibly talented international artist to town for the NEA “Arts Bridging Community” and for the subsequent TCA “Legacy Portraits” public art programs.

Thanks to our Sponsors

Many thanks to the organizations and individuals who have made this mural possible.

This project is supported in part by grant awards from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA).

To find out more about how NEA grants impact individuals and communities, visit

To find out more about TCA and their programs, visit

Other project sponsors include: Eric Culberson, City Council Member William A. Gordon, Jr., David Herrington,
Grover & Sue Shade, Jill Strube & Sam Blasco.