The Traveling Man
The Back Story


Since 1884, when the first industrial business opened in Deep Ellum, the land has absorbed an overrun of businesses, great entrepreneurial ambitions, and industrial parts along with the next-to-arrive restaurants, art galleries, retailers, bars and visitors. Many feet, tires, and tracks have packed the earth of Deep Ellum. The culmination of all these elements in this entertainment-district borne from an industrial heritage provided the materials for creation of The Traveling Man.


At some point before 1900, an old steam train was buried near the intersection of what is today Main Street and Good Latimer. A majestic elm tree grew nearby in a grassy area, providing a shady spot for visitors to gather as well as shelter for many song birds. As the roots of the elm tree grew closer to the buried train, magic emerged. The surrounding dirt, fertilized with all that is Deep Ellum, created a womb. The Traveling Man was conceived late one night when a splash of gin spilled onto the dirt reached the tip of an elm tree root that rested on the train. His gestation near completion, an inspirational vibe of hope was felt throughout the neighborhood. This incredible man was born in August 2009.


In 2007, The Traveling Man reached out to Brandon Oldenburg and a team of artists in Deep Ellum at Reel FX Creative Studios. As The Traveling Man’s image and personality began to reveal himself, the folks at Reel FX knew something special was about to happen, but they needed a little help from Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham to complete his image. Just as The Traveling Man has for years, he facilitated yet another creative collaboration – this time between Reel FX and Brad Oldham - to bring him alive above ground.


It’s important to note that The Traveling Man is not a representation of a single element of Deep Ellum; rather, he uniquely encompasses many aspects of the community in a timeless manner. The guitar-shaped head is a nod to the musical history and demonstrates that he’s “in tune” with the neighborhood. The robotic shape demonstrates the playful and engaging nature of Deep Ellum and its industrial roots. The height, lengthy spiral legs, and outstretched arms represent the high aspirations of the Deep Ellum community and its future growth. The Traveling Man’s position in motion shows this is a part of town “on the move.” The open heart symbolizes the acceptance of Deep Ellum. The materials used in The Traveling Man are metals commonly used in the industries that first established this neighborhood and that inherently have a reflective quality to pick up on nearby colors and lights. Finally, his sense of humor and whimsy seen in his playful smile originate from the many creative people who live, work, and visit Deep Ellum.


The Traveling Man has subconsciously inspired artists for years. Deep Ellum has a certain allure that has gone unidentified for more than a hundred years, but can now be traced back to The Traveling Man. His thoughts emerge through the elm tree roots and are carried by the song birds throughout the neighborhood. Birds are his best friends; they dance in the sky and sing beautifully to communicate his inspiration, as The Traveling Man never speaks. His wisdom comes from years of listening to everything that happens at the street level.


Hints of The Traveling Man’s influence can still be found in the subject matter of restless artists, in the manifestation of visitors to Deep Ellum for business owners, and even in the designation of a new DART rail station for the community. Whether it’s the classic artist or the artful businessman, travel is an essential component of success - and travel is the common thread that ties Deep Ellum’s history to its future. This gentle, wise man now stands tall, raising with him the dreams and aspirations of those who believe in him.


Written by Christy Coltrin as told by Brandon Oldenburg and Brad Oldham, October 2007.


©Brad Oldham 2009