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SXSW: Austin — A City With Its Soul on Its Sleeve

The face of Jesus painted on a cross on the door of a control box next to a pay phone at a check cashing establishment in Austin TX. Photo by bf newhall

A crucified Jesus appears on what seems to be a fuse box outside a check cashing establishment in East Austin. To the right of the pay phone, the Virgin of Guadalupe is highlighted with mirror shards. A mirrored Gandhi is glued to the wall around to the left. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Austin has the reputation of being not your typical Texas town — it’s more liberal and more secular than the rest of this Bible Belt state. And it’s got the annual SXSW festival. Perceptions notwithstanding, there’s plenty of religion going on in Austin. You can see it from the street.

Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Evangelicals — Austin has them all.Here’s what I spotted with my trusty point and shoot, sometimes without  having to even get out of the car:

The face of Mahatma Gandhi reproduced with pieces of mirror on the wall of a check cashing establishment reflects a blue sky in East Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

Whoever loved Guadalupe and Jesus enough to piece together their images on the front of this building seems  to have a thing for Mahatma Gandhi as well. Notice the roses, a symbol of Mary. Photo by BF Newhall

Colorful bas relief Image of Radha Krishna -- in both male and female form -- at the Rahha Madhav Dham temple in Austin TX. PHoto by bf newhall

Outside the Hindu temple at Radha Madhav Dham, the Godhead expresses itself in the form of Radha Krishna. Devotees say Krishna, left, and Radha, right, are one and the same deity, but appear in two forms in order to pass on bliss through their playful interaction. Photo by BF Newhall

An elaborate mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe is painted on the side of the Kleen Wash laundramat in East Austin, TX. the mural includes an image of an airplane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11. Photo by BF Newhall.

Guadalupe at the Kleen Wash laundromat. The parking lot mural includes an airplane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11. And, yes, that’s my trusty point and shoot in the side mirror. Photo by BF Newhall

Detail of a grren, white and red mural depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe on the outer wall of a laundramat in East Austin , TX. Photo by BF Newhall.

The Kleen Wash Virgin’s tearful gaze . . .

Detail of a mural on outside wall of the Kleen Wash laundromat in austin, tx, showing plane crashing into twin towers on 9/11. photo by bf newhall

. . . falls on this 9/11 scene. Photo by BF Newhall

A sun-faded image of the virgin of guadalupe stands in an austin, tx, front yard next to a plaque honoring a soldier son who died in the Korean War. Photo by BF Newhall

A sun-faded Guadalupe stands next to a  front yard cross and a plaque honoring a soldier who died in the Korean War. Photo by BF Newhall

A small statue of the Virgin Mary stands amidst flowers and trees in an Austin, TX, front yard. Photo by BF Newhall

Another front yard Virgin Mary. One of many in East Austin. Photo by BF Newhall

The worship space of the First Evangelical Free Church of Austin with upholstered chairs in row, a simple cross at the front of the room and audio equipment set up for praise worship. Photo by bf newhall

This vast unadorned sanctuary is the main worship space at the new campus of the First Evangelical Free Church of Austin. Plenty of audio-visual equipment for praise music is scattered about. But the room itself doesn’t go in for architectural detail, imagery, art or even color. Some people like their religion this austere. As for me, I prefer the  Kleen Wash parking lot . . .      Photo by BF Newhall

An image of the feet of the deity Rahda Krishna at the Radha Madhav Dham Hindu temple complex, austin, texas.

. . . or contemplating the feet of Radha Krishna. Photo by BF Newhall

If you enjoyed this post, you might like “Barbara Brown Taylor — I Haven’t Figured Out How to Pray, But I’m in Good Company.” For more Austin stories go to “The Ghost of 300 Million Dead Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas” and “Quirky, Lovable Austin.”

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  1. Thanks for these images! I used your photos of the KLEEN Laundry mural for my blogpost comparing the original to the new version at the Launderette restaurant.

    • Readers — Check out Ben’s blog and see what became of the Our Lady of Guadalupe mural I wrote about a couple of years ago. It once graced the wall of a laundromat in Austin; now the laundromat is a restaurant called the Laundromat.


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