The Nevada Traveler: Discovering Roy Purcell’s marvelous Chloride murals
More than 50 years ago, artist Roy Purcell changed the way many people view the old mining community of Chloride, Ariz.
In 1964, Purcell, an art student on leave from Utah State, was living with his wife and children in a small wooden home in the historic community. Working at a local mine by day, Purcell spent his evenings painting colorful images that seemed to spill from his imagination.
However, he felt the works needed something more. As he has written, “I needed something far larger to properly understand the relationships of my images.”
He was drawn to some cliffs located a mile and a half from Chloride. Inspecting the stone cliffs, he recalls that he was impressed by the way the shapes of the rocks perfectly fit the images in his paintings.
Once he had selected his site, Purcell shared his idea with an old miner he’d befriended, who agreed to help pay for the materials to paint the murals that the artist envisioned.
For the next several months, Purcell worked on the massive painting, while still laboring at the mine. Finally, in September 1966, he completed the work.
The result is a complicated collection of realistic and surreal images, which Purcell later interpreted as representing stages of his life and conflicts within his subconscious.
To the casual viewer, the Purcell murals are impressive — and intriguing.
Starting on the right end (where Purcell suggests you should begin), you see a detailed painting of Chloride’s Tennessee Mine and several buildings. Above this is a large talon that sweeps up to a doorway.
From here, the pathway (for lack of a better description) transforms into an open serpent’s mouth, which is bordered by symbols representing a male and female. Other drawings of various animal shapes resemble traditional petroglyph images.
Above the serpent are a series of circle images, including the Eastern Yin-Yang symbol, while farther left is a giant woman holding a child in one hand. Above the woman is an eye surrounded by small circles.
It’s all definitely worth exploring.
The town of Chloride has its own share of interesting history. Located in the foothills of the mineral-rich Cerbet Mountains, the town was one of a half dozen or so that grew up in the area.
Ore with some color was apparently first found in the region in the mid-1860s, but serious mining didn’t start until about 1870. Within a year, several thousand people were living near the mines and a town began to take shape.
By 1872, Chloride (which is named for the type of silver ore found in the area) had a brewery, blacksmith, saloons and other businesses. A year later, a post office was opened.
The town suffered the usual booms and busts of most mining towns over the next few decades, declining in the mid-1870s and reviving in the early 1880s. In the early 1890s, a rail spur was built from nearby Kingman to Chloride, making the town the main supply point for many area mines.
The town thrived for more than a decade, before the ore began to run out. Mining, however, has continued to be done in the region over the years, including the Duval Mine, southeast of Chloride.
Driving toward Chloride, today’s visitors will find hills littered with old tailing piles. The town, which still has several hundred residents, is a modest grid of several dozen homes and a small, central business district, including three saloons, several antiques stores and a post office.
Directly east of the town is the old Tennessee mine, which operated until 1948. Around the mine site, you can still see mill foundations and other mining remnants.
The dirt road leading to the Purcell murals (signed by directional arrows on rocks) passes in front of the Tennessee mine and heads south. The road is rough in spots (e.g. you must cross a dry creek bed) but passable most of the year without a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Chloride is located 45 miles northeast of Laughlin via Arizona State Route 68 (to Kingman), then north on U.S. 93. The town is 4 miles from Highway 93 on a paved, marked road.
For more on the murals, read Purcell’s “Chloride the Murals,” published by Stanley Paher’s Nevada Publications. Purcell’s work can also be viewed on his website, https://purcellgalleries.com/.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.