Adios, Vaquero

It Was Nice Knowing You


Kamille Ritchie, Cactus Editor

After 43 years, Central Arizona College’s Signal Peak says goodbye to its iconic water tower mural. Due to Mother Nature’s intense force, the mural is extensively degraded. According to sources, CAC plans to remedy this situation by repainting the water tower. Unfortunately, there is no way to salvage the mural in its current state. CAC is unable to drain the tower as it provides water storage for all irrigation needs on campus. The tower also provides water to fire hydrants and fire riser sprinklers. Riddled with rust spots, many residing within the mural itself, it was only a matter of time. Even in its infancy, CAC’s Vaquero mural experienced a fair share of issues.

Envisioned by Dr. Don P. Pence [CAC’s founding president] and Don Ratz [an art instructor], David Callihan, an art student and former Cactus writer, was commissioned to create the design. Callihan initially had trouble designing the Vaquero; traditionally, a Vaquero is a rugged individual. His clothing is dusty and neutral. Callihan eventually decidesd on a modernistic approach, using vibrant colors to add life to the college’s mascot.

Towards the end of 1972, Callihan [along with assistant, Mike Adams] began to work on the 30 foot mural. During this time, the duo experienced several setbacks due to design flaws. Mistakes unnoticeable on paper are potentially catastrophic on canvas. “Little mistakes in a drawing look bad when they’re blown up,” Callihan says in a 1973 Cactus article.

Trying to juggle his hectic schedule, Callihan barely had time to work on the piece. By January 1973, Adams had completed nearly 50% of the work. A persistent problem that occurred throughout the duration of this project was water run-off. Frequently, the water would mix with the mural’s colors, causing them to fade. The duo constantly had to create a way to maneuver water away from the piece.

“The most disappointing thing about the painting is it’s not as distinct on the campus as it is when you’re right next to it.” This is true; if you are looking from the Signal Peak from campus, it can be hard to distinguish the design. Despite the setbacks, Callihan and Adams were able to complete the painting later that year,; however, parts of the mural are hidden from view. “I never thought it wouldn’t be visible.”

At this time, a blank canvas replaces the once proud Vaquero. Mounted on his black stallion, the Vaquero on the mountain retires from his post. In due time, CAC’s athletic logo will claim his spot. Perhaps another student will one day make their mark on the campus again.