In the 14 seasons banners have flown from Newport’s Nye Beach lampposts, themes have included the 2017 eclipse, safety, diversity, and COVID. This year’s crop takes on a global concern with sunflowers and blue skies – long-distance prayers for peace in Ukraine.
“The artists loved the idea of the sunflower,” said Veronica Lundell, founder of the banner project. “Sunflowers symbolize happiness, optimism, honesty, longevity, peace, admiration, and devotion. They quite literally look to the bright side. People recognize it as being very representative of Ukraine.”
In the past, Jill Pridgeon’s banners have popped with happy images in red — a dog on the beach with a flying disc, a lady leaping in a storm, a girl drifting in a kelpy sea. This year, it’s a woman wearing a babushka, sunflowers in hand, and behind her on the edge of a field of flowers, a girl planting a sunflower in the cannon of a tank. Pridgeon was inspired by memories of Vietnam War protests.
“That was the first thing that came to me,” Pridgeon said. “We grew up around a horrible war. The boys that came back were so damaged, and I think about all these Russian boys that have been pushed into war that will come back to their families and communities just destroyed. There is as much tragedy for the Russian soldiers … even though they are doing shitty stuff. There’s no fixing that type of a wound.”
The Ukrainian theme also brought up dark memories for local artist and former Newport Mayor Sandy Roumagoux.
“It’s déjà vu all over again with the Hungarian Revolution,” she said, referring to the 1956 uprising that saw thousands of Hungarians killed by the Russians. “It seems so downhearted. It was such a dastardly sneak attack. It just got to people. I know it certainly did to me. That’s why I did the banner.”
Her banner depicts a sunflower on a blue-and-yellow heart with the word “peace” below; the reverse shows a vase of the flowers. It was a different approach for Roumagoux, who said, “I’ve never painted a heart in my life,” and who usually takes the subject matter and inspiration, and lets the art go where it will. But in this case, she decided to stick with the symbols of Ukraine.
“It’s powerful in color … you can’t beat blue and yellow together across the color wheel,” she said. “I get the sense that people just can’t take one more thing. Give us some breathing space. Let us look at something that honors something, but it doesn’t have to show the knife in the body. So that’s what I did. I felt good about it. I felt hope.”
This is the third year Newport’s Sister City, Mombetsu, Japan, has participated in the banner project. Each year, Newport sends eight blank canvasses to the city; Mombetsu returns four completed. Newport also gives the city a favorite banner by a Newport artist.
The sister city also embraced the Ukraine theme, featuring sunflowers in each of the four returned banners. In a summer long-distance meeting, it was the first thing Mombetsu officials wanted to talk about, said Peggy Hawker, Newport’s city recorder.
“They started out by talking about how concerned they are about the situation in Ukraine,” Hawker said. “They have a sister city in Russia. They are sad.”
The banner project, which features 61 banners – about half focused on the Ukraine theme — is a fundraiser for Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ youth art programs. To date, the banner auction has raised about $100,000 for the cause. This year’s virtual auction kicks off with a party Nov. 5 at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Bidding runs through Nov. 13.
Each year, the project also publishes a booklet featuring photos of every banner. This year’s booklet comes with a letter from Kostiantyn Ulianenko, a migrant worker from Ukraine who worked on Newport’s Bayfront during the 2019 seafood-processing season. He wrote in 2020, barely a year before Russia invaded Ukraine:
…Newport is more than memories of hard and exhausting work in one of the most amazing parts of the world. It is a city of bliss and peace, comfort and harmony, rhyme and mental balance, peace and quietness, human hopes and dreams… For me, Newport is a hand-turned page of the Book called Life … the Pacific Ocean, Newport, Oregon and the people living there are forever in my heart.
The booklet notes that the 2022 banners capture all these sentiments and reflect solidarity with Ukraine. “Kostiantyn, wherever you are,” it reads, “our hearts are with you and your nation.”