Nye Beach banners

Nye Beach Banner Project goes international

The 12th annual fundraiser for arts education includes work by artists in Newport's sister city of Mombetsu, Japan

Shigeru Yamai depicted the Yaquina Bay Bridge, with love from Mombetsu City, for the Nye Beach Banner Project.
Shigeru Yamai depicted the Yaquina Bay Bridge, with love from Mombetsu City, for the Nye Beach Banner Project.

Twelve years after a group of Nye Beach merchants sought to define their little neighborhood’s identity, the Nye Beach Banner Project has gone international.

This year’s banners include four from artists in Newport’s sister city of Mombetsu, Japan. After Mombetsu delegates visited Newport last year, banner project organizers were inspired to offer artists an additional option for the banner theme — traditionally meant to represent some aspect of Nye Beach.

“Many of the artists embraced that and did something representative of Mombetsu,” said Veronica Lundell, project coordinator. “Last year when the delegates came, they were given a tour and really enjoyed what we were doing.”

The banners hang from neighborhood lamp posts during the spring, summer, and early fall, before being taken down for the fall auction. The artists donate their time and talent, with auction proceeds benefiting youth arts education and public art through the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.

Former Newport City Councilor Wendy Engler, who recently visited Mombetsu, came up with the idea for a banner exchange with the sister city. So this year, project organizers sent eight blank canvasses to Japan. Four painted by Mombetsu artists were returned, the other four stayed in Mombetsu for that city’s own display, to join four chosen from among those by Oregon artists.

“The idea was that Mombetsu would start their own project,” Lundell said. “But COVID has presented some challenges we could not have anticipated. How we proceed for next year is still to be decided. We hope to continue.”

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Nye Beach banners mark 10 years of flying their freak flag

The project, begun to address the Newport community's identity problem, nearly didn't get off the ground because of one controversial offering

Organizers can smile about it now, but 10 years ago, few involved in the fledgling Nye Beach Banner Project saw the humor. It all came down to one banner, the work of Rowan Lehrman. The front featured a topless woman painted in the style of bathing suit model Bettie Page, cavorting in the ocean waves, arm reaching up, ending not in a hand, but a crab claw. On the opposite side was the legend: “Nye Beach is 4 Freaks.”

Eileen Hearne created this banner, part of the “10 x 10” show, in 2015. All banners are 22-by-44-inch canvases. Photo by: Tom Webb, Newport Visual Arts Center

“I wanted to make a statement on inclusivity and beauty standards and the way our culture twists things,” said Lehrman, chef at Tables of Content restaurant. “That was the first year of the project, and it really got off to a shaky start. People took offense. They thought a man painted it and it was pornographic. Someone said the word freak bothered them. It was very tense in the beginning. There was talk about not proceeding with the project.”

What few knew was that the work had been inspired by a tale about Lehrman’s birth, when she was treated like a freak.

That was 2009, the kick-off of a project that this month is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a show commemorating its most prolific artists, as well as its annual auction this weekend.

The Nye Beach banners were envisioned as a way to help the little oceanside neighborhood with its perceived identity problem. It was a time of change — both welcome and not. Once known for its blocks of tumbledown cottages and boho spirit, Newport’s Nye Beach was transitioning into a place of multi-level condos, upscale gift shops, and newcomers, some of whom seemed intent on changing Nye Beach into whatever town they’d left behind. It went from being a place once described as not feeling very safe at night, to one touted as having the economic potential to become the next Carmel, which few residents would have considered a good thing.

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