Chamber Music Northwest Orion Quartet The Old Church Portland Oregon

Painting the town in Newberg


Those of you in Portland lucky enough to live within a few blocks of an awesome mural have to understand: We don’t have as many artists in Yamhill County as you do. Or as many walls. But give us some credit; we have people working on it.

One of the most important is Luke Zimmerman, a classically trained painter who teaches at George Fox University in Newberg. A few years ago, he started looking around and realized that the community had a serious mural deficit. That’s true of much of Yamhill County, but more on that later. Zimmerman had both students who had mural experience and others who wanted to give it a try, so they all put their heads together, and art happened.

The first of what organizers hope will be several murals by the Yamhill County
Mural Project is visible driving into Newberg on Oregon 99W. Photo by: David Bates

You can see the result as you head into downtown from the north. After you come down the hill on Oregon 99W and hit the curve, you can see the mural on the left side of the road: three pairs of colorful hands in various poses splashed on the east-facing wall of Steve’s Auto Service. It faces a parking lot, so parked vehicles sometimes block the lower section, but most of it is impossible to miss.

Benjamin Cahoon, a 19-year-old second-year George Fox student from Florence, lives across the street and has a 24/7 view from his window. That’s fine with him — he helped paint it, after all.

“It is incredibly fulfilling,” said Cahoon, who also worked on a mural in Albany for BJ’s Ice Cream. “It was an amazing experience.”

Cahoon was one of four art students who expressed an interest in the project after Zimmerman put out a campus-wide call more than a year ago. The timing didn’t work out that year, but over the summer, Geoff Gilmore of the Newberg Noon Rotary reached out, and a project began to fall into place.

Zimmerman now heads the Yamhill County Mural Project, and his hope is to get a second local mural going this school year, then expand into other area towns during the 2019-20 year.

“I think you can make the argument that the oldest tradition in art is muraling,” said Zimmerman, reflecting on the appeal of giant paintings on walls visible to all. “If you look at cave paintings, that was essentially public work on a wall. Depending on the point in time historically, they’ve had different meanings, but they’ve always been very communal in nature. They’ve always played that role of embodying some aspect of a community or the aspirations of the community. It’s artspeak to say ‘public discourse,’ but I do think there’s something about them playing that role as an aesthetic marker of the hopes and identity of a place.”

Yamhill County doesn’t have a lot of murals, and I won’t attempt a complete list here because I’m sure to miss one. The most prominent include an 8-year-old mural in downtown Carlton next to City Hall that was painted by the late Gerry Blankenship and artist Ryan Braukman. In downtown McMinnville, there’s one in the alley behind the Union Block Building at the access from Davis Street. That one — of a woman with a parasol and bouquet — was done a couple of years ago by local artist Ashley Phillips. McMinnville movers and shakers are trying to figure out a way to do more, but there’s no official word yet.

The late Gerry Blankenship, a longtime Carlton resident, teamed up with Ryan Braukman and other artists in 2010 to paint the mural on the building next to Carlton City Hall and the police station. Photo by: David Bates

For Zimmerman’s students, the project wasn’t just about the painting: It involved the planning and getting permits from the city. “There were a lot of wrinkles,” Zimmerman said, noting that it was the first application of Newberg’s recently approved mural codes. He added that it was also an opportunity for his students to jump through the same bureaucratic hoops as professional muralists must before they put paint on the wall.

By all accounts, the design process was interesting, and occasionally tense, as different ideas and styles flowed together. “The collaboration started off kinda bumpy,” said artist Jared Mar, a 20-year-old junior from San Francisco. “But we learned to communicate better with each other. It was helpful that we were all friends beforehand.”

Mar also brought mural experience to the table, having helped with school restoration projects in his hometown. He designed the hands and showed his fellow artists how to make a perfect circle: tie chalk to one end of a string, and use the other hand to hold the string in the circle’s center.

Sierra Ratcliff, a 20-year-old junior from Olympia, did much of the design work on a computer. “Then we started plugging in colors that we liked,” she said. “It was so hard to decide on that, so we just went to Sherwin-Williams, all of us, and looked at the paint swatches in person and came up with the colors together.”

George Fox students (from left) Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon collaborated on the mural that shows three pairs of hands representing giving and generosity, receiving and gratitude, and embracing. Photo courtesy: Yamhill County Mural Project

Ratcliff also offers an explanation of the hands, from left to right: The first represent giving and generosity, the central image suggests receiving and gratitude, and the last is embracing. The goal was to generally reflect Rotarian values, but beyond that, the students had free rein.

Portland Playhouse Roald Dahl Matilda the Musical Portland Oregon

“They generated almost every bit of content that came out of the project, which included probably two dozen different designs at least,” Zimmerman said. “As a teacher, I really got to push them.”

Junior Annabelle Wombacher, 20, from Tacoma, had never done a mural before.

“The experience was so compelling,” she said. “It was just so captivating to be right there, zoned into the work. Then, stepping back after several hours of work and looking at the progress we had made and where we were was humbling and, simultaneously, so fulfilling. Working with my teammates was great, and always so fun. We’d listen to music, complain about how hot we were, and gush about the colors every time a new can of paint was opened.”

Ratcliff met me one afternoon by the mural to chat about the project, and I pointed out that they really could not have found a more perfect location. Literally thousands of people will see it every day, I said, and she smiled.

“I still can’t wrap my head around that,” she said. “We were so blessed to have this location.”

LINFIELD COLLEGE IN McMINNVILLE kicked off its 2018-19 theater season last week, and I managed to get out of the house and catch the opening of Night of the Living Dead, which was alternately disturbing and amusing. I particularly enjoyed the mix of video and live action, with the former capturing the 1968 film’s inherent campiness and the latter more often than not driving home the terror and desperation one would likely feel if trapped in a house surrounded by zombies. One is hesitant to single out performers at the collegiate level, but heck, it’s done all the time in sports, so I’ll just say it: Senior Antoine Johnson, who played Ben (the role Duane Jones filled in the film) is a remarkable actor. Not all college students who do shows are theater majors, but he is, and that’s a good thing, because he’s both talented and has stage presence to spare, which can prove elusive even for actors who have honed their craft. It will be interesting to see where Johnson pops up in the rest of the season — and then, where he goes to work. Also, hats off to Melory Mirashrafi, the senior theater major who directed the show. The play easily could come off as buffoonish, but she gave us a zombie play with, yes, some bite.

IF MONSTERS ARE YOUR THING, you’re in luck: Dracula — the play and the character — will be on stage at Salem’s Pentacle Theatre starting Friday. David Ballantyne directs Steven Dietz’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror classic. The show runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 20, tickets are $29, and the theater is at 324 52nd Ave. in northwest Salem. If you’ve never been, map it first; it’s sort of hiding up in the hills.

ARTS JOURNAL: I’m one of those people who loads up on far more reading material than is necessary or realistic for even a short trip, and my family’s recent two-nighter in a yurt at Beverly Beach State Park north of Newport was no different. I brought along two nonfiction works, one novel, three graphic novels, and three or four magazines. I didn’t get to any of them, and instead spent the weekend reading Macbeth all the way through — mostly outdoors, and occasionally by a fire and under what looked like a full moon. Best reading of the Scottish play ever.

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.


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