The city of Amarillo sits squarely in the wide, open spaces of the Texas panhandle. Aptly known as the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Amarillo boasts plenty of cattle ranches, beautiful scenery, and world-famous museums. One of its lesser-known attractions, however, has long drawn attention from locals and tourists alike. Although christened the “Dynamite Museum,” the project isn’t a museum at all; instead, it’s a vast urban art installation of nearly three thousand distinct road signs.
Artist and Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing at West Texas A&M University Jon Revett has been an active participant in the project since the mid-1990s. He explains that the name “Dynamite Museum” refers to an artist collective by that name that was funded by the late Cadillac Ranch sponsor Stanley Marsh 3. Marsh began the project to “blow up” the perception of what an art museum should be.
There is no immediate sense of reason to the messages and images on the repurposed signs—which is precisely the point. Revett, along with other supporters of the Dynamite Museum, accepted suggestions for designs or conjured up their own eccentric phrases and graphics. The signs, which cost up to a thousand dollars to create, range from cheeky catchphrases, to pop culture, to delicate watercolor-like imagery.
Revett recalls driving around in a pink 1959 Cadillac to scope out new homes for the signs, saying, “We would target specific neighborhoods, and I would stop if I saw people in their yards. I had a stack of Polaroids of the current signs, and I would ask if they wanted one. If they did, then an entire procession of cars and trucks would show up on the weekend and put the sign in the yard.”
Although many of the signs have fallen victim to the elements or were removed by new landowners, the Dynamite Museum made a lasting impression on the Amarillo landscape by brazenly defying the conventions of the modern art museum.