Jack Brooks Airport unveils paintings featuring Southeast Texas legends

Summer Lydick
Dean Conwell

Jack Brooks Regional Airport unveiled three new paintings Thursday, Oct. 27, that feature Janis Joplin, George Jones, Bubba Smith, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Tex Ritter and Bum Phillips — what the city of Beaumont has called “homegrown luminaries.”

Local artist Summer Lydick, commissioned to create large portraits of famous Southeast Texans, has been working on the project over the last few months.

“It was important that I get it right. I’m very glad that here I learned a little bit about our culture and history. There’s so many people who are from here who have contributed on the world scale,” Lydick said during the unveiling ceremony. “I think it’s in the water — we just have a lot of great talent.”

Lydick explained that she projected the photos onto the canvas for placement, then worked from photos while filling in the colors.

“Everyone knows what these people looked like,” she said when telling the audience why she used projectors for accuracy, even though some people think that’s “cheating.”

She used water-based acrylic, and they were all painted in her garage in August. Lydick recalled the mosquitoes and sweating, explaining that her experience went into the work.

An audience member asked, “Did something guide you from one person to the next?”

“Janis really did,” Lydick answered. “I talked to Janis a lot and asked for guidance, just to keep me focused.” She said she played Joplin’s music while working and watched a documentary of her life with footage from Port Arthur.

“She was such a great character with a really strong voice and vision that was misunderstood,” Lydick said.

Lydick’s next project will be painting a house. Her business, the Painted Wall, provides faux finishes to make new houses look older, like an Italian villa from the 1700s. Her previous projects include another mural at Edison Plaza downtown, a portrait of Thomas Edison, and a mural at the ISTC training facility.

“Those portraits are outstanding,” County Commissioner Everette ‘Bo’ Alfred said after the unveiling. “People come through these doors … and in some cases they don’t know where these guys grew up or were going, and now they know these people were from our community right here in Southeast Texas.”

Other community leaders are excited about the change, as well.

“When visitors are arriving, this was a totally just blank wall they were facing with a Coke machine on it, and we were discussing how that was not really welcoming to a visitor coming in,” Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Tammy Kotara Kotzur said. “We’re going to carry it through with new brochure racks.”

“About a year ago, our office had gotten a couple of people that said, ‘Your airport is kind of drab,’” Kotzur said. 

After Hurricane Rita, Jack Brooks Airport was closed for five years due to the damage and flights were moved over the Jerry Ware terminal. When the airport reopened, the terminal was downsized. The terminal roof also collapsed during a hailstorm referred to by locals as “Mean Green” during the early ’80s.

Jack Brooks is now half the size that it was during the ’90s.

“We’re telling a story, we’re telling the story of Southeast Texas and some of the great people that grew up here, so we’re very proud and I think the work Summer did is unbelievable,” said Dean Conwell, executive director of the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau. Conwell says the bureau plans to hire Lydick for future projects.

Lydick lives in Beaumont but is originally from New Mexico and grew up in Louisiana and Texas. She claims all three states as home. She got her BFA from Texas State, and her masters at Lamar University and opened her business soon after in 2004.

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