Column – Alphin mural captures spirit of the West

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s indeed a bull here in hog country.

It was good to reconnect this week with Rex Alphin, courtesy of mutual friend Doug Chesson, who passed along a picture of Rex’s newest artistic creation, a 60-foot-wide, 20-foot tall mural of a Texas longhorn on the Alphin farm in southern Isle of Wight.

I was reminded that Rex’s artistic spirit, and talent, has no bounds. Before his foray into local politics a decade or so ago, he wrote a weekly slice-of-life column for me during my time as publisher of The Tidewater News in Franklin. His delightful, breezy reflections on farm life were a hit with his readers, including this publisher, who encouraged him to compile his columns into a book, which he did. “The Nature of Things: Stories from the Land” sold out quickly, but there’s one used copy available on Amazon as I write this.  

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

We mutually agreed that his column should take a hiatus while he ran at the time for the Carrsville District seat on the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors. The plan was to revive it after the election, but the combination of elected service and farming proved too demanding. If we’re lucky, I’ll coerce Rex out of column-writing retirement one day.

It turns out that the visual arts come just as naturally to him as writing.

He did the longhorn mural in two weeks using only black and white spray paint.

“I grew up in the John Wayne era,” Alphin, 67, said of his inspiration for the mural. “There’s just something about those cattle on the range, something very majestic about them. It seems to capture the spirit of the West.”

The family once raised cattle and hogs on a 2,000-acre farm along the Blackwater River now devoted entirely to corn and peanuts. Sadly, the economics of livestock became unfavorable to independent farmers like the Alphins, and few still try it.

The mural surely would be a point of pride for Rex’s late father, who was the inspiration for a second book, “Lamentations of a Son,” a collection of poetry also available on Amazon.

Another mural is in progress, a tribute to family friends who tragically lost their teenage son.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is