Fordyce Street: from sawmills to art!

Fence murals? Yes!
(Learn about the artists)
Yard art? Yes!
43 photos!
Ashland Neighborhood Art series.

“There’s a 25’ long multi-colored Jellyfish on Fordyce Street!” That’s the email message I got from a friend who reads my Walk Ashland articles. No, we don’t have a new aquarium on Fordyce Street, but we do have a jellyfish. My friend proved it to me with attached photos. Here’s one for you.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the Jellyfish mural on Fordyce Street, painted by J. Mike Kuhn. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

When I went to Fordyce Street to investigate, what I found surprised me.

Art and Community

I have recently been writing many articles about art in Ashland. The Fordyce Street mural artists with whom I spoke believe in the power of visual art to elicit smiles, to bring people together, even to change lives for the better. They believe, as I do, that art within the community is important. Going to an art museum is a rare experience for most people, and a “never” experience for many. On the other hand, driving or bicycling or walking around our community is an everyday experience for almost everyone.

Artist J. Mike Kuhn echoed what I have heard from many other Ashland artists, when he told me: “It’s so cool how we can connect and inspire others. I may never get to meet some of the people that I inspire, but I think it’s interesting that you can really do that.”

Not just one fence mural

I found the 25’ jellyfish; it’s a mural painted on a fence. It is hard to miss! Then I started walking around the neighborhood and pretty soon I had a photographic collection of not two, not three, but six colorful fence murals, along with creative yard art and other beautiful sights.

As I was walking back to my car, I stopped to look once again at the longest fence mural of all. This was at 573 Fordyce Street. At that moment, in a small example of the “WalkAshland serendipity” I experience again and again, the homeowner Peter Paul Montague and his daughter came out of their front door. As they were about to get in their car, I said “Hello” and introduced myself.  I asked him if he knew who painted the mural on his fence, and he replied, “I did.” He was on his way to pick up another child, so we agreed to meet another time for an interview. Before I tell you about the artists, here are some other highlights of Fordyce Street.

Let’s begin our Fordyce Street walk at the corner of East Main Street 

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
This street sign marks the south end of Fordyce Street, where it meets East Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

At its south end, Fordyce Street meets East Main Street. To the north, it ends after about six blocks at private property that overlooks and extends to Bear Creek. If you want to reach a trail to North Mountain Park from here, turn left on Munson Drive, right onto Village Square Drive, and keep an eye out for the trail that leads into the park.

Ashland as a mill town?

As I started my walk, I met Denise, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1980. She described Fordyce Street of that time as a gravel road with only six or seven houses along it. She remembers a sawmill wigwam burner still present in the neighborhood, a magnet for young boys to play in, though the sawmills had all closed. In the photo below, you can see a wigwam burner in the background that was at another sawmill just a couple blocks away.

Sawmill, Ashland Oregon
Lithia Lumber Mill at 1155 East Main Street, which is now the site of the Ashland Police Station. The mill operated from the 1940s to the 1960s under three different names. (photo from “An Introduction to History of the Rogue Valley: with a focus on the Ashland area,” December 2012 edition.)

Most people who have moved to Ashland during the past 40 years don’t know that Ashland was a mill town not so long ago. There were at least nine sawmills operating here during the mid-20th century.

Sawmill, Ashland Oregon
Taylor Brothers Mill on Hersey Street, now site of the Hersey Street Business Park, open 1947 to 1960, (photo from “An Introduction to History of the Rogue Valley: with a focus on the Ashland area,” December 2012 edition.)

The Oregon Sawmill site was along Fordyce Street from 1956 to 1967. Lithia Lumber Mill had been located two blocks away, where the Ashland Police Station is now, from the 1940s to the 1960s. A third sawmill called Workman Mill was across East Main Street from the early 1950s to early 1960s. Now you know why the college student housing located at its former site is called Old Mill Village. 

Creative art along Fordyce Street

In addition to beautiful murals, I found other creative and interesting art to share on our walk from the south end to the north end of Fordyce Street. 

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
This is a beautiful slate or stone fence on Fordyce Street at Calypso Court. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Detail of a beautiful slate or stone fence on Fordyce Street at Calypso Court. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
And now, a word from a local comedian. Morgue gallows humor? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Here is some Fordyce Street art in metal and wood, designed by Kerry KenCairn. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
This gate on Kirk Lane is metal art at the same house that has the large metal and wood artworks around the corner on Fordyce Street. This gate is also by Kerry KenCairn. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Right across the street from this metal and wood gate is a colorful gate painted by Peter Paul Montague, who also painted the fence on both sides of the gate.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Gate detail of the Sol LeWitt inspired mural on Kirk Lane by the corner of Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Another artistic gate on Fordyce Street. This one was designed by Mardi Stone. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

This house at 540 Fordyce Street has several creative artworks that I stopped to admire.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
540 Fordyce Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
This fascinating sculpture and stained glass is at 540 Fordyce Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Detail photo of a fascinating sculpture and stained glass at 540 Fordyce Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
I like the artistry of this fence at 540 Fordyce Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
More creativity at 540 Fordyce Street. This design of pavers is in the driveway. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
This yard art on Fordyce Street is exceptional. Somehow it combines simplicity, complexity, cuteness and cleverness in one humble jumble of driftwood and stones. I love it. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Fordyce Street, Ashland
520 Fordyce Street. This house replaced one that burned in a fire September 2018. A neighbor out walking her dog told me the first floor walls of the new house are made with straw bale construction. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
What’s cuter: the saying or the statue? What’s wiser: the saying or the tree? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Coming to the north end of Fordyce Street, with Bear Creek below and Grizzly Peak above. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
When I saw this old fence and the old tree stump beside it, I couldn’t figure out whether to call it art or nature. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Introducing the mural artists

Peter Paul Montague painted five geometric murals. J. Mike Kuhn painted the dramatic jellyfish mural. I interviewed both Peter Paul Montague and J. Mike Kuhn so I could do justice to their artwork and their artistic stories.

Peter Paul Montague’s artistic background

Before Montague entered his current profession of nursing, he supported himself for many years as a craft artisan, batiking on organic cotton clothing. 

He had played with paints as a child, but didn’t get serious about art until after graduating from college with a degree in Sociology. During a one month hiking trip in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he learned about batik art from a friend who had trained in Kenya. Spending a summer travelling with his friend, Montague learned the basics of the East-African Batik tradition.   Montague would spend the next 14 years making and selling Batik clothing as Nakupenda Batik.  He focused on sustainable practices, using only organic cotton clothing, beeswax, and specializing in natural indigo dye.

Here is an example of a Peter Paul Montague batik shirt. (photo courtesy of Wendy Eppinger)

Made from the Indigo plant, this natural dye has been used for thousands of years. Note however that blue jeans and most other indigo dyed clothing are now made from synthetic indigo dye. Montague’s largest batik art was a 9′ by 9′ wall hanging, but what put food on his table for many years was his batik clothing.

“Philadelphia, where I grew up, is full of public art.”

Peter Paul Montague

“I grew up with public art,” he told me. His hometown of Philadelphia is known as the City of Murals. According to their website, “Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program, dedicated to the belief that art ignites change. Mural Arts has created over 4,000 works of public art through innovative collaborations with community-based organizations, city agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, the private sector, and philanthropies.”

He was inspired and influenced by…

When I walked Fordyce Street with Peter Paul Montague, he told me the names of two artists who influenced his mural painting style. Sol LeWitt inspired him to experiment with bold colors and geometric designs on large “canvases” (such as fences). Isaiah Zagar, mosaic artist in the Philadelphia South Street neighborhood, inspired him to be imaginative.

Here’s an example of one of LeWitt’s large pieces.

Sol LeWitt mural
A mural by Sol LeWitt at Columbus Circle Station, New York City. (photo from Wikimedia Commons, 2017)

Here’s a peek at Zagar’s mosaic work in Philadelphia. 

Isaiah Zagar Magic Gardens
A detail from Isaiah Zagar Magic Gardens, 1020 South Street, Philadelphia. (photo from Wikimedia Commons, 2012)

Peter Paul Montague’s murals and process

“My goal is for people to feel movement when they view the paintings, even though they are static.”

Peter Paul Montague
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the Sol LeWitt inspired mural on Kirk Lane by the corner of Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The first fence he painted was his long fence along Kirk Lane, with a boldness and color palette inspired by Sol LeWitt’s work. The long fence provided 60′ to work with. He created outlines for the curves using string and a pivot point, and filled in the outlines with high quality wood stains to provide color.

His property has a LOT of fence, and his second painting was done on a continuation of the first long painted fence. In this one, he got more creative with his shapes and chose a theme of “circle and waves” for the mural. 

A neighbor volunteered his fence for Montague’s third fence painting. This attractive art has a new theme: “rivers and mountains.” You’ll notice a variety of blues and greens for the flowing river and browns and reds for the stylized mountains. 

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the “rivers and mountains” themed mural on Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Montague shared some of his in-process design and painting photos with me. It is fascinating to see glimpses of how it was created.

Another neighbor liked the designs so much that they asked if he would collaborate with them to create a design for their fence. The result has a theme of “interlocking circles.” Notice how each band of color changes as it moves from one circle to the next. That really impressed me.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the “interlocking circles” themed mural on Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Detail of the “interlocking circles” themed mural on Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Finally, there is a smaller design in Montague’s front yard. He called it a “color study,” since he experimented with color blending by using a second, dry brush to create subtle gradations of color.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the “color study” themed mural on Fordyce Street, painted by Peter Paul Montague. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Jellyfish mural by J. Mike Kuhn

It’s not often that one sees a 25’ long jellyfish in Ashland. Unless of course you live in the Fordyce Street neighborhood! This fence mural was painted by local artist and graphic designer J. Mike Kuhn in 2020. 

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Overview of the Jellyfish mural on Fordyce Street, painted by J. Mike Kuhn. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“I thought it would be cool to donate a more permanent mural to the town. A lot of my other work has been painting murals on vehicles, 13 or 14 since I moved to Ashland.”

J. Mike Kuhn

Why a jellyfish?

Kuhn grew up in New Jersey, where he would spend summers at the Jersey Shore. If you spend time on his website, you will see the themes of ocean and wave and flow. You will see many colorful artistic versions of the creatures who live under the waves. 

His brand name is FEEESH, a play on words. Playful yet serious. 

Mike told me that FEEESH stands for “Forever Energetically Entering Endeavors Spreading Happiness.” 

How many people are able to capture in six words not only their approach to art, but also their aspiration for a life well lived and their desire to uplift others in the community? I gained a tremendous respect for this young man when I took a few minutes to consider seriously his eccentric brand name.

Making the jellyfish mural

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Here is the Jellyfish mural in-process, prep work done on the fence but before painting. (photo courtesy of J. Mike Kuhn)

Kuhn described many layers of meaning in the design and execution of this jellyfish. With bamboo growing behind the fence, he wanted the light green base of the mural to emulate and blend with the ever-changing greens of bamboo leaves reflecting the sun. In addition, the flowing jellyfish blends with the flowing nature of bamboo moving in the wind.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Here is the Jellyfish mural in-process, early in the painting. (photo courtesy of J. Mike Kuhn)

A deeper conceptual thought embodied in the mural was inspired by Xavi, a mural artist Kuhn worked with and learned from in 2019 (see more about Xavi below). Kuhn sees the jellyfish coming out of tumultuous times, as expressed in the color selection and design on the left end of the mural, and going in to a calmer area.  

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Here is the Jellyfish mural in-process, as darker green paint is being applied. (photo courtesy of J. Mike Kuhn)

On the first day, he painted the entire background. The larger light green section received one coat to age faster and the multiple hue section was double coated to endure longer. On the second day, he painted the jellyfish using mostly darker tones of spray paint in order to last longer against sun fading and to offer stronger contrast.

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Closer view of the Jellyfish mural on Fordyce Street, painted by J. Mike Kuhn. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

From the beginning, he thought about the life of the mural. He pointed out how light moves across the mural throughout each day. It gets full sun in the morning, then partial sun, then full shade late afternoon. Because of the full sun, he expects the light green paint to fade more quickly than the spray paint. Over time, the wood’s natural grain will begin to show through the light green paint around the jellyfish, and the relationship of the jellyfish to the fence will gradually change. Seeing the wood’s natural grain in this mural will also reference the nearby murals by Peter Paul Montague, who used stain colors that allow the underlying wood grain to become part of the design.

Here is an artist’s detail I would not have noticed. The gray color in the jellyfish is actually chrome spray paint, not gray. Chrome is basically a gray color, but it reflects more sunshine to add a bit of shimmer on sunny mornings. As the day goes on, it becomes a normal flat gray color.  

Fordyce Street, Ashland Oregon
Artist at work. J. Mike Kuhn is shown painting the Jellyfish mural. (photo by Emily Dunckle, courtesy of J. Mike Kuhn)

The neighborhood mural artists meet

As Kuhn was working on his jellyfish mural, Montague (who lives a block away) stopped by to watch and talk. Kuhn appreciated this, and added, “I was lucky enough to give him a compliment in person, since I love his pieces. I think they’re beautifully sophisticated and so well executed. I thought I had to do a good job just to do justice to his work.” 

I asked Kuhn, “When did you become an artist?”

“That police officer is one of the reasons I am now a professional artist!”

J. Mike Kuhn

“I’ve been creating with paints or Legos since before I knew it was a thing,” he replied. “When I was in high school, I had a legal issue because some friends and I painted the entire inside of a large warehouse [illegally]. During a terrifying interrogation, a police officer’s advice to me was that I had talent and I was wasting my time breaking into places doing art for free. I should go to school for this. At the time, I was planning to go to college for chemistry, since I was fascinated with science. That police officer is one of the reasons I am now a professional artist!”

After high school, Kuhn went to a local community college for graphic design. He followed up by attending and graduating from an intensely competitive arts college in Manhattan, the School of Visual Arts. Exceptionally artistic students from all across the world go there to study advertising, design, fine arts and more.  

He has done hundreds of patterns as a graphic artist working for companies as well as working on his own. He creates patterns and designs art for hammocks, chairs, t-shirts, shoes and more.

He was inspired and influenced by…

“Have an intention behind each stroke.

Xavi Panneton

Internationally known, local mural artist Xavi Panneton took nine months to paint the entire exterior of the Kids Unlimited building in Medford during 2019. While assisting Panneton with the main entrance area, Kuhn was deeply influenced by Panneton’s art and his mentoring. 

Kids Unlimited, Medford Oregon
The entire Kids Unlimited building in Medford was painted as a mural by Xavi Panneton. J. Mike Kuhn assisted him with part of it. (photo from Kids Unlimited website)

“Working with him for a couple months was unbelievable. I remember asking him about my work at the time. He said, ‘Your studio work looks like you’re doing it illegally [rushed].’ Xavi was the one who taught me to slow down. He gave me the most amazing line: ‘Have an intention behind each stroke.’ Now with my paintings I try to think about the color interactions. He even influenced how I speak about my work.” 

Cannabis aficionado, food lover, BMX rider

Kuhn came originally to Southern Oregon to work a few months during the marijuana harvest season, which provided some income to help him focus on art the rest of the year. While here, he began to make friends with people who were creating art and supporting art. I was surprised when he told me why he decided to move here. “The reason I really stayed and moved here was the food. The food in this area is exceptional. You can’t go to a food store in New Jersey and get what you can at the Food Coop. Between the agricultural diversity and the natural beauty of this area, I couldn’t resist moving here.”

He added: “I’m also a BMX rider, so I really enjoy the skate parks in this area. It’s kind of a unique thing in the country that Oregon has such large skate parks. You couldn’t legally build a skate park like you have in Oregon in New Jersey, because of insurance laws. For me, it’s a treat to be able to ride these big cement sculptures, basically. That’s actually where I’ve met at least half of the owners of buses I have painted.”  

“I was 25 when I first saw the Milky Way. In New Jersey you can count the stars. Now seeing the Milky Way most nights blows my mind. To me, it’s such a treat.”

J. Mike Kuhn

When he gets homesick

Most of Kuhn’s family still lives in New Jersey. He gets homesick for them sometimes. I laughed when he told me what he does. “I go to Jersey Mike’s when I’m feeling homesick, because the photos in the Jersey Mike’s shop are of my mom’s neighborhood.”

Art in the Ashland economy

Large gatherings in Ashland have been shut down for nearly a year as this article is being written. With no clear end in sight, there has been much discussion about how to diversify Ashland’s economy to depend less on the economic power of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). It’s not a matter of “instead of OSF,” since I believe we will always have OSF here. It is definitely a matter of “in addition to OSF.”  

Artist J. Mike Kuhn put it to me this way. “I think personally the town needs to invest more in visual arts. In times of fire and other awful situations [like COVID-19], you can’t always have performance art, but visual arts will always stand. A mural is still enjoyable in the smoke, or when people are limited to walking around their neighborhood.”

He expanded his vision of the impact of visual arts to include not only tourists, but also the children who grow up here. “I see this town as developing into even more of an arts community. If we did more street murals and things like that, I think it would be a great space for children to grow up. I try to inspire kids with the idea that you can do something cool. You can change your community.”   

Finally, why the name Fordyce Street?

Usually I have no idea why a street was given its particular name. In the case of Fordyce Street, we have a story from a man who wrote a booklet in 1951 about Ashland street names. According to the author Henry C. Galey, he named Fordyce St. in memory of Asa G. Fordyce, who came to Ashland with his family in 1853. Fordyce got a 320 acre donation land claim along Bear Creek, including what is now North Mountain Park and the Fordyce Street neighborhood. Fordyce sold his land to Frank Carter in the late 1880s and it became part of the Carter Land Company cattle operation. 

Fordyce Street, Ashland
Asa G. Fordyce photo. (from the Find a Grave website)

Asa Fordyce was well respected in the community. As evidence, here is a story about the first elected school board in Ashland. School classes were first taught in Ashland in 1854 at Eber Emery’s house, with Miss Lizzie Anderson the teacher. This informal arrangement continued until April 3, 1857, when the small community held a meeting to elect three school directors and a clerk for the just-formed Jackson County School District No. 5. John P. Walker (for whom Walker School and Walker Street are named) was chosen, along with Asa G. Fordyce and Bennett Million, while Robert B. Hargadine was the clerk.

If you would like to learn how a three-year-old was responsible for the creation of School District No. 5 in 1857, please read this article. 

I hope you have enjoyed my article about Fordyce Street and its beautiful murals. If you would like to read other articles about artwork in Ashland, here are a couple of suggestions. 

References:

Anon. “An Introduction to History of the Rogue Valley: with a focus on the Ashland area.” North Mountain Park Nature Center Brochure. Version 4, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, December 2012. 
https://www.ashland.or.us/Files/HistoryBackgroundBookWeb1-3-13.pdf

Darling, John. “Fire strikes twice,” Medford Mail Tribune, September 26, 2018.

Galey, Henry C. with Geo. W. Dunn and Rose D. Galey. “Information on Ashland Streets, April 5, 1951,” at SOU Hannon Library. 

Kids Unlimited website, accessed February 27, 2021.
https://kuoregon.org/mural/

Kuhn, J. Mike. Interview and personal communications, October 2020 and other dates.

Montague, Peter Paul. Interview and personal communications, October 2020 and other dates.

Mural Arts Philadelphia website. (accessed February 11, 2021)
https://www.muralarts.org/about/

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens website (accessed February 11, 2021).
https://www.phillymagicgardens.org/about-us/

Painted Utility Boxes, Part 1 (2009)

45 photos of 7 utility boxes!
Outdoor painting on hot July days.
Public Arts Commission at work.
Ashland Public Art series.

Have you noticed the bright, colorful utility boxes around town?  I love the way these gray metal boxes have been transformed into colorful works of art. This article will feature mostly photographs, including fun “before and after” photos of the utility boxes.

In 2009, after consultation with the City utility department, the Public Arts Commission (PAC) invited artists to submit designs for paintings on seven utility boxes in and near the Railroad District area. PAC’s Call for Entries document stated in part: “The theme for Phase 1 of this project is Reflections of Ashland. Artists are invited to submit designs that are suitable to the theme of Reflections of Ashland. These may include but are not limited to designs that reflect Ashland’s natural beauty, cultural offerings, history and distinctive charm.” 

Artists were required to submit a two dimensional representation of what their design would look like on the three dimensional utility box. As an example, artist Zelpha Hutton submitted the design below. PAC chose six artists to paint the first seven utility boxes.

Painted utility box Ashland
Design submitted by Zelpha Hutton for utility box on Second Street in front of U.S. Bank entrance. (photo from Public Arts Commission, Designs Submitted, 2009)

When the Public Arts Commission was created in 2003, it began with lofty ideals and no consistent funding source. Money was still tight in 2009, so funding had to be found for the utility box project. A Mail Tribune article described the supporters of this project. “In addition to support from the city government and Ashland Public Arts Commission, the utility box project was made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition and donations of paint and services from Miller Paint Co., The Party Place and Meyers Painting.”

Following this map, you can create your own Art Walk of these first seven painted utility boxes. Follow along as you read this article on your mobile phone, or get some fresh air on a sunny day after you have read it.

Painted utility box Ashland
Map of the seven utility boxes in and near the Railroad District that were painted in 2009, approved by the Public Arts Commission. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)

Box 1: North Second Street (“Dogs and Bikes”)

The first box on the map is located on North Second Street near East Main Street, in front of the entrance to U.S. Bank. Zelpha Hutton is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Dogs and Bikes.”

Hutton was an art teacher and owner of Paisley Yarn Shop in Ashland for many years. According to the Mail Tribune, the design came to her “when she noticed several dogs tied up at the nearby Agave restaurant while their owners dined. A bicycle was also outside. The scene — often repeated at cafés all around town — inspired Hutton to create a playful design featuring dogs tied to a table with a bowl of water and a bicycle nearby. The utility box she painted is in front of U.S. Bank on Second Street.”

I’ll begin with the before and after photo, share two more photos taken in 2009, and then add three that I took in January 2021.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street “before and after,” in front of U.S. Bank entrance. Painted by Zelpha Hutton. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street in front of U.S. Bank entrance. Being painted by Zelpha Hutton in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street in front of U.S. Bank entrance. Painted by Zelpha Hutton in 2009. Its getting dirty in 2021, but still a scene that brings a smile to my face. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Does this pup bring a smile? Detail of utility box on Second Street in front of U.S. Bank entrance. Painted by Zelpha Hutton in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 2: North Second Street (“Poppies”)

The second box on the map is located on North Second Street near Lithia Way, in front of Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth. Kathleen Taylor is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Poppies.” This photo collection also includes the before and after photo, two more photos taken in 2009, and then three that I took in January 2021.

Along with Taylor’s poppy flower design submittal, she wrote, “I am inspired by the beautiful springtime flower here in Ashland.” 

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street “before and after,” near Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth. Painted by Kathleen Taylor. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street near Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth. Being painted by Kathleen Taylor in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Second Street near Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth in 2021. Painted by Kathleen Taylor in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
More flowers on the other side! Utility box on Second Street near Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth in 2021. Painted by Kathleen Taylor in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 3: Lithia Way (“Mountains and Trees”)

The third box on the map is located on Lithia Way at the west end of C Street. Pokey McFarland is the artist, and his title for the artwork is “Mountains and Trees.” The theme was a natural for the artist, since McFarland was a hiker, trail runner, mountain biker and skier. 

When McFarland submitted his design for the utility box to PAC, he wrote: “I feel that Ashland is a unique area, naturally beautiful and hidden in among mountains and forests. I feel many come here for that isolated feeling. The natural beauty here is one of a kind, wonderful! When I reflect on Ashland, I think mountains, trees, rivers, natures’ beauty…” 

In a 2011 article, the Ashland Tidings said, “McFarland previously was one of the winners of a city contest to paint drab utility boxes in colorful designs. He also makes posters for bands and music festivals, designs T-shirts and does art projects for businesses.

A staff member at the Lithia Springs Boys Home, he likes to take troubled youngsters out into nature. They sometimes team with Ashland Parks and Recreation Department workers on projects.”

Below you’ll find the before and after photo, one more photo taken in 2009 as the box was being painted, and then two that I took in January 2021.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Lithia Way “before and after,” near west end of C Street. Painted by Pokey McFarland. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Lithia Way near west end of C Street. Being painted by Pokey McFarland in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Lithia Way near west end of C Street in 2021. Painted by Pokey McFarland in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Side and top view of utility box on Lithia Way near west end of C Street in 2021. Painted by Pokey McFarland in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 4: Oak Street (no longer painted)

Box 4 was located on Oak Street in front of the Recology Ashland office. Sadly, it is no longer there. The utility box was replaced and not repainted. Here is a photo showing how the box, painted by Kathleen Taylor, looked in 2009, and a 2021 photo showing how it looks now.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street in front of Recology Ashland office, just after being painted by Kathleen Taylor in 2009. Note: this utility box is no longer painted.(photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street in front of Recology Ashland office. It was painted in 2009, but the painted utility box was replaced with this one. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 5: Oak Street (“Ashland Activities”)

Box 5 is located on Oak Street near the Old Ashland Armory. Judy Bryant is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Ashland Activities.” This painting is full of detail. After the two photos from 2009, I included a number of close-up photos taken in 2021 to show some of that detail.

With Bryant’s design submittal, she wrote, “When I was giving thought to a design for Reflections of Ashland I kept thinking of all the activities we as locals get to enjoy right outside our front doors any day of the year.”

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street “before and after,” near Old Ashland Armory. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory. Being painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory in 2021. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory in 2021. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. Detail of OSF Elizabethan Theater. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. This detail shows an Ashland City Band concert at the Lithia Park bandshell. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on Oak Street near Old Ashland Armory. Painted by Judy Bryant, 2009. Detail of Southern Oregon University. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 6: A Street (“Clouds and Grapes”)

Box 6 is located on A Street near the Ashland Food Coop. Adrienne Bailin is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Clouds and Grapes.”

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street “before and after,” near Ashland Food Coop. Painted by Adrienne Bailin. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Ashland Food Coop being painted by Adrienne Bailin in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Utility box, Ashland Oregon
Utility box on A Street near Ashland Food Coop in 2021. It was painted by Adrienne Bailin in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Utility box, Ashland Oregon
Utility box on A Street near Ashland Food Coop in 2021. It was painted by Adrienne Bailin in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Utility box, Ashland Oregon
Detail of utility box on A Street in 2021. It was painted by Adrienne Bailin in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Box 7: A Street (“Return of the Swans”)

Box 7 is located on A Street near Fourth Street. Ann DiSalvo is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Return of the Swans.” I interviewed DiSalvo, so I’ll share a little of her experience painting the utility box and some of her insights about public art. I found out that she also painted three other utility boxes around town between 2010 and 2016, so you’ll see her name come up in future articles.

DiSalvo got her degree in art at the University of Wisconsin, and has worked as an artist most of her professional life. Since moving to Ashland in the early 1990s, she has been active in the Ashland Gallery Association, including editing their annual Gallery Guide for more than 15 years. 

Hot, hot, hot

She remembers the July days in 2009, when painting was done, as extremely hot. PAC rented canopies for the artists to work under, which helped a bit. The artists picked up their paint supplies (exterior acrylic paint from Miller Paints) the first morning in the Elks Club parking lot and headed for their individual utility boxes. Each box had been thoroughly cleaned by city staff in preparation for painting. Later, after artists finished their painting, city staff added a UV clear coat to prolong the life of the outdoor artwork.

DiSalvo described the challenge of working with the outdoor acrylic paint under these conditions. “Because of the heat, the acrylic paint would dry so quickly. In under a minute it would be dry, and my brushes would be caked with paint because it was drying on the brush. The metal was so hot [in the afternoon] that when the paint hit the metal, it would be stiff within seconds, and it was hard to make a good flowing stroke. It wasn’t so bad in the morning.” She added that utility box painting in subsequent years was done in the spring or fall to avoid these hot summer temperatures.

The value of public art

Ann expressed one of the benefits of creating public art on site – community members get to interact with an artist at work. “A Street is a pretty busy pedestrian street in the summer. A lot of people came by and commented, and that was nice. In addition, a neighbor brought me a cup of iced lemonade while I was painting.”

Regarding the value of public art, she added: “When I go to another city and I see their public art, it really speaks to me of what they consider valuable. Public art shows the imagination and care the community has, not just for residents but for visitors too. There is a sense of humor in much of it. If a city were a person, this would be its facial expression.” She also believes that public art, because it is visible, inspires other artists to want to live in that community. “They feel like they belong in a city that loves art.”

In addition to visual arts like sculpture and murals, I would extend Ann’s thought to include theater art, music, dance and other creative endeavors. All of these art forms, especially theater, currently attract people to both visit and live in Ashland. I think expanding public art in Ashland, because it is both very visible and freely accessible, would be one way to build our community’s economic engine.  

Photos for box seven will begin with Ann’s design for the box, followed by two photos from 2009 and four that I took in January 2021.

Painted utility box Ashland
Design submitted by Ann DiSalvo for utility box on A Street near Fourth Street. (photo from Public Arts Commission, Designs Submitted, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street “before and after,” near Fourth Street. Painted by Ann DiSalvo, 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street as it was being painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. Ann is talking with her friend Tom Houston and his daughter Olivia. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street in 2021. Painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street in 2021. Painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street in 2021. Painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street in 2021. Painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

More utility boxes

I hope you enjoyed this “walk” around the Railroad District to visit the first group of painted utility boxes sponsored by Ashland’s Public Arts Commission. Quite a few more have been painted since 2009. I will visit more in another article.

References:

Aldous, Vickie. “Map showcases Ashland Watershed,” Ashland Tidings, July 28, 2011.

Anon. “Artists paint Ashland utility boxes,” Medford Mail Tribune, July 23, 2009.

DiSalvo, Ann. Interview, January 2020.

Etling, Bert. “Beautifying the boxes,” Ashland Tidings, July 24, 2014.

Public Arts Commission. “CALL FOR ENTRIES: Reflections of Ashland: Utility Box Beautification Project (Phase I),” Public Arts Commission, 2009. (accessed January 26, 2021)
http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/5%2004%2009%20extended%20with%20photos.pdf

Public Arts Commission. “Reflections of Ashland: Utility Box Beautification Project,” Presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009. (accessed January 26, 2021)
http://www.ashland.or.us/files/utilityboxslideshow.pdf

Public Arts Commission. Designs submitted, 2009. (accessed January 29, 2021)
https://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Design%20Selection%20Panel.pdf