Visual Arts

"Tree of Life" Blooms in Downtown Houston

Reginald Adams and crew members work on the "Tree of Life" mural at Skanska’s Capitol Tower development site.
Reginald Adams and crew members work on the "Tree of Life" mural at Skanska’s Capitol Tower development site. Photo by Craig Hartley
Houston's concrete jungle is a little less gray after the unveiling of public artist Reginald Adams’s “Tree of Life” mural on the side of Skanska's Capitol Tower development site at the corner of Travis and Rusk.

The mural is one of four commissioned by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee as part of a beautification initiative spearheaded by City Council member Amanda Edwards ahead of Super Bowl LI. To Adams, who teamed up with kids from KIPP Connect for this, the third mural in the series, the “Tree of Life” is a symbol of love.

"A tree has always been a symbol for growth and understanding, wisdom, transfer of time, deep roots,” says Adams, “and so to have this giant tree growing in the middle of downtown and the blossoms of this tree are the work of children – it’s a symbol of the future.”

Adams used sacred geometry, “universal symbols” that he says “resonate messages that have been spoken by mankind since man started marking the earth” to inspire the middle schoolers. These 25 students are part of a group of over 100 that Adams has engaged in the conception and creation of the four murals.

"For them it’s like magic,” says Adams. “Creating something that’s bigger than you, that's larger than you, that’s beyond your own imagination, being a part of that is very empowering.”

For the first mural at Cuney Homes, artist Amy Malkan led the children of the housing development through a word tree, brainstorming around the theme of empowerment. The resulting concepts – pride, communication, love, knowledge, family – were then curated into the mural’s design, which the kids helped paint, so Adams says, “they own it.”

"[The kids] spoke of the mural as if they had no help – ‘we did that,’ ‘that’s my rainbow,’ ‘that is my butterfly,’” says Adams with a laugh. Though several artists worked on the project, “to the kids, it didn’t matter.”

"That's a feeling they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives,” he adds.
click to enlarge
The “Tree of Life” design features geometrical blossoms created by students at KIPP Connect.
Photo by Craig Hartley
Moving into Midtown, “The Heart of a Champion” – a “very organic splash of color” with larger than life portraits of seven of the city’s greatest pro athletes set against the Houston skyline and a black and white stencil of a heart with wings in the center – now adorns one wall of the breakfast klub.

Since the four-site project was commissioned ahead of the big game, Adams says it was only fitting. “Sports for some people is an inspiration to become your best.”

The final mural, to be unveiled January 28, was a challenge; three women – Houston’s first daughter Ashley Turner, Houston Public Library director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson and Adams’s own grandmother – were ultimately instrumental in its conception.

Ashley Turner's father, Mayor Sylvester Turner, was born and raised in Acres Homes, and while driving through the area with her, Adams came to understand the importance of matriarchal leadership within the community. It reminded Adams of his grandmother, whom he had recently visited in the hospital.

There he saw her quilt, “bold, vibrant scraps of colors pulled from generations of hand-me-downs turned into a beautiful work of art.” Certain the imagery would resonate on a cultural and historical level with area residents, his vision solidified after meeting with Lawson – the mural would advocate literacy, a patchwork with three different hands coming together to stitch the word “read.”

On the eve of painting the final mural, Adams is excited. “I can remember being as young as four or five years old, dreaming of doing what I’m doing right now,” says Adams. “For me, it’s an affirmation of how powerful we are when we set our minds to pursue our passions unapologetically, fully, and that’s what’s happening in my life.

"It's a beautiful space to be in.”

“Tree of Life” can be viewed at Capitol Tower, 811 Rusk, at the corner of Rusk and Travis. "I Am Empowerment" is located at Cuney Homes, 3260 Truxillo; "The Heart of a Champion" at the breakfast klub, 3711 Travis; and "READ" at the Beulah Shepard-Acres Homes Neighborhood Library, 8501 West Montgomery. For more information about artist Reginald Adams, visit
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.