by DAVID WHITE
When out-of-towners visit Kyle, one of the top attractions would have to be Texas Pie Company. Not just because it’s a wholesome cafe that captures the essence of small-town Kyle, but because it’s that place with the big honkin’ piece of pie on top.
That big piece of pie, and other artistic attractions around town, like the kinetic sculptures that adorn businesses like Luvianos, Texas Pie Co. and Arrowhead Trading Co., are made by local artists and make our town unique. However, after scratching the surface on the identity of these local artists it turns out their scope is pretty far-reaching.
Enter these three guys from Kyle – three friends, three artists, owners of three separate businesses: Lynn Wilkerson who owns and operates Great Big Signs with partner Mario Muñoz; Jim LaPaso who has dedicated his career to kinetic sculpture; and the young pup of the crew, Jay Gordon, whose bigger-than-life artwork has earned him the right to run with the big dogs.
Lynn Wilkerson of Great Big Signs
Lynn Wilkerson had a vision. Actually, he’s had a lot of visions, but luckily he’s been able to reproduce those visions and market them successfully.
An aspiring art student, Wilkerson attended Western Texas College and Texas Tech. His first legitimate sign-making job after that was in Oklahoma, where his job was to design roadside billboards for the sign salesmen, but he really aspired to be outside making the signs, being the one to make them come to life. That’s when he decided to move back to his home in the Panhandle and start his own business in Snyder.
One job led to another and Wilkerson began traveling to Austin to do contract work. One of his first jobs was the Egyptian-themed auditorium at the Dobie Theater.
Kinetic Sculpture by Jim LaPaso
Jim LaPaso’s passion for art began as a child. He recalls from an early age, digging up clay from a local quarry and making gifts for family and friends and his father teaching him to work with wood – carving and making furniture.
In 1972, LaPaso took his artistic interests to Hill Fine Art Center in Joliet, Ill. where he learned under a masterful metal sculptor, Orion Hargett.
LaPaso, always learning, and often teaching, taught photography and wood sculpture at the fine art center and Joliet Junior College. He spent his years after college studying kinetic art – art that depends on motion for its effect, generally powered by wind.
LaPaso has dedicated his career to this medium and he has sold pieces to clients around the world and has shows and commissions in several states.
He notes that he wouldn’t be able to get it all done without his apprentice John Weber of Austin.
One of the pieces LaPaso’s most proud of is a sculpture on Third Street in downtown Austin, next to Austin Music Hall. It’s a tribute to all the great guitar pickers – a medley of guitars mixed with his branded kinetic sculpture. He’s got similar sculptures at the Domain in Austin as well as in Nashville, Tenn.
Soon after, in 1994, he started his business Great Big Signs with partner Mario Muñoz of Kyle.
He’s had a long line of contract work since then that includes billboards, murals, neighborhood and commercial entryways and such.
Their biggest client right now is Freebirds Restaurant. So, if you’ve been in a Freebirds, you’ve seen work by Great Big Signs. The common theme in all the restaurants is “Libby” on a flying Harley surrounded by winged, flying guitars. However, no two restaurants are the same. There’s a Freebirds in Houston which is the only one to boast a rollercoaster with Barbara Bush sitting next to Racer X with Willie Nelson sitting in the car behind them.
“It’s great to wake up every day when you do what you love,” says Wilkerson.
Jay Gordon of Blackout Signs and Metalworks
San Marcos’ own Jay Gordon is making a name for himself with his three-dimensional signs and has an impressive client list to prove it.
Gordon has known Lynn Wilkerson and Jim LaPaso for years and is glad to have been mentored by such talent. “I always thought what those guys did was really cool, and I always wanted to be a part of it,” said Gordon, who wanted to get his foot in the door, offering to sweep floors or whatever he needed to do to be an apprentice. With some encouragement and direction Gordon became much more than an apprentice and now owns his own sign company that employs three other artists, his wife Darcy Hanna, Shay Miller and Zach Forester.
“I’ve basically gone from shop rat to being a peer. We have a mutual respect for each other,” said Gordon. He says his relationship with Wilkerson and LaPaso drives him to excel. “You see them do something cool and you want your next piece to be better than that,” he said.
In addition to doing big signs, Gordon was commissioned to do metal restoration at The Highball in Austin – a bowling alley, club and restaurant.
Gordon’s clients include Red Bull, Alamo Drafthouse, Whole Foods, Tito’s Vodka, Studio Image, Clear Channel, Torchy’s Tacos, Patsy’s Cafe, Spiderhouse, ACL Fest, Rock of Ages, Kastner & Partners, Zens, Publix, P.Terry’s, Lollapalooza, Special Homes and Diablo’s Cantina.