Vince Till has one of the most recognizable faces in Silverton. Portrayed with his beloved dog FeBee on a mural in the parking lot of 203 East Main St., his signature overalls and his ability to tell a story make him a beloved part of the landscape.
Till began cultivating the stories he tells and caring for the murals he loves when he moved to Silverton from his home on Crooked Finger Road in 1993. Already 65 and newly retired, his wife Babs wouldn’t allow him to settle into a boring life.
“My wife said, ‘We’ve got to get involved in something,’” Till recalls.
That something became the newly organized Silverton Mural Society.
“What happened in Silverton in 1992 – Lancaster [Mall] opened up and when Lancaster opened up the town pretty much folded,” Till explained. “All the stores just disappeared and they had to figure out a way to bring people to town. This was the way to go.”
Originally in the position of society vice president, Till worked his way up to president fairly quickly and held that position for 18 years, helping to bring 31 murals and a lot of Silverton’s history to outdoor walls.
“The murals have quite a history of Silverton,” Till said. “There was a lot of thought that went into it when they started.”
That history is very important to Till, which is evident in the way he conveys it with a passion borne of real interest. He has attempted to pass that legacy on to some of the youngest residents by leading groups of third grade students on tours. Beginning in 1995, each tour has kicked off the same way – with the story of Bobbie the Wonder Dog.
“It captures your imagination,” he said. “We thought if we could get to the kids in time we could avoid graffiti and it’s worked.”
Today the mural society, which began with a handful of people, has grown to more than 30 members “on paper” and about eight that are involved in daily operations according to Till.
“Some just donate money,” Till said. “And that’s fine. We need both.”
Fellow member Ellen Snow agrees. She and her son Kyle came up with a fundraising idea that put donation jars in shops all over town, collecting thousands of dollars toward maintenance costs over the years.
“You can make a big dent with something small like a change jar,” she said.
Snow has once again come up with a way to assist the society in its mission to bring people to Silverton and to preserve its history. Enlisting her brother, Francis “Chip” Uricchio, the duo developed an app for Apple users that brings the murals to life with the touch of a button.
Chip, a semi-retired interventional cardiologist in New Mexico, has developed several apps for his work. After hearing his sister rhapsodize about the importance of the murals decided to create one to share Till’s stories with a wider audience.
“There is an image of each mural, information on the artist that painted the mural and information on the date it was painted and the subject matter addressed by the mural,” Uricchio said. “Furthermore, it will show you the location of each mural and provide directions on how to get there from wherever you might be.”
The free app, which is now up and running for users of iPhones and iPads on the Apple App Store, received more than 400 views in the first two weeks.
Now that the app is live the next step for the Mural Society is getting the word out in the hopes that it will bring newcomers to Silverton and drum up support within the community to help with maintenance.
“Maintenance means you have to check the murals once a day – we check them twice a day,” Till said. “Once a year we use car soap with wax to wash them down.”
That maintenance routine, as well as any repairs necessary, is projected by Till to cost between $10,000 and $12,000 a year and is absolutely essential to keeping the murals intact.
“You’ve probably got half a million dollars in murals in this town,” Till estimated.
“When you see the ones that aren’t cared for it kind of reflects on the city,” Snow added, “and ours are crisp.”
Snow is hoping residents will download the app to keep on hand for visiting guests and to help preserve history.
“[The murals] tell a story and we want to make sure we don’t lose that as Vince gets older,” Snow said. “I felt like we needed some way to preserve his speech.”
Laughing, 89 year old Till agreed, “I say, ‘I’m Vince Till ‘til the end of time.’ They know me as the mural man.”