Brent Herling has a confession to make.
"I'm the one that put SpongeBob on the wall."
The sudden appearance of the cartoon sponge sparked a minor uproar in 2011 among purists who wanted to preserve W.T. White students' 1976 mural, which covers a half mile of wall along Forest Lane, in its original condition. Cathy Miller McCoppin, one of the original student artists, described her mood to us at the time as "infuriated."
Herling meant no harm. "A Corvette hit the wall way back in the early 2000s and took out the last, I dunno, 50, 60 feet of the wall." The city eventually replaced the missing section but not the artwork. Someone inelegantly scrawled the word "GOOF" across the blank section, and so it stayed for several years before Herling, a TI engineer and amateur sculptor, picked up his paint brush.
Recently, to the dismay of his wife and some neighbors who felt it captured the original mural in spirit, if not detail, he painted over SpongeBob and began recreating the original artwork, which includes the Mayflower and the Starship Enterprise.
Nor is Herling stopping there. He's calling on anyone who cares to show up -- neighbors, W.T. White students and alums, random passersby -- to help restore the mural.
It's a mammoth task. A similar restoration effort in 1993, he says, took three years. Herling, with some help (Fox 4 reporter Heather Hays stopped by with her daughters last weekend) hopes the current effort can be finished much, much sooner.
Why is Herling doing this? The most immediate cause was a rumor that some in a neighboring homeowners association had proposed painting the wall beige, which he feared would invite graffiti and destroy a quirky piece of neighborhood history.
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More generally, Herling is just kind of obsessive about keeping the neighborhood he grew up in looking nice. Any piece of graffiti that appears on the wall he covers within 24 hours, generally under cover of night so as not to attract the notice of gang members who are usually the ones tagging the wall.
He boasts of once spending two weeks clearing every piece of graffiti along Forest Lane between Central Expressway and Harry Hines Boulevard and Central Expressway.
So, you can bet that Herling will finish restoring the mural whether anyone chips in or not. He'd much prefer, though, to have as many helpers as possible. He'll be out there with paint and brushes by 10 a.m. Saturday.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.