It is hard to imagine Bob Bullock wandering into the Blue Genie Art Industries studio cum fun house in East Austin. The building’s exterior is painted like a panel from the Sunday funnies, with Hanna-Barbera-like minarets and tents and a red-hot houri on a magic carpet. Stepping inside feels like walking on to the set of a cartoon; the cavernous space is filled with grinning robots, dancing fire hydrants, and such. But for six months last year, the no-nonsense lieutenant governor, who died in June 1999, would likely have fit right in. That’s when the Blue Genie boys were helping to create the six huge bas-relief panels that adorn the facade of Austin’s new $80 million Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, set to open on April 21. The parade floats and art cars that usually pay Blue Genie’s bills were rolled aside last March when sculptor Mike O’Brien presented owners Kevin Collins, Rory Skagen, and Dana Younger (and the six or so stray artists they feed each day) with their first grown-up job. Their marching orders came from the State Preservation Board and a museum advisory committee selected by then-governor George W. Bush, then-lieutenant governor Bullock, and House Speaker Pete Laney. The 46-year-old O’Brien would create six 11- by 16-foot concrete panels that would serve as the exterior statement of the museum’s interior mission: to tell the story of Texas.
The panels—which were budgeted at $250,000—would incorporate the themes the museum had come up with: “Encounters on Land,” “Building the Lone Star Identity,” and “Creating Opportunity.” But it was up to O’Brien, the exhibit sculptor for Texas Parks and Wildlife, to fill in the details. To make sure that