Large. Visible. Have you seen it?
Huge mosaic wall mural.
The artist shares hidden secrets.
Artist: Krista Hepford.
Ashland Public Art series.
“Yes, that’s how ‘Uplifting’ got its name,” Krista confirmed with a laugh.
Have you noticed it?
If you live in Ashland and drive a car, you may have seen this public artwork hundreds or perhaps thousands of times. But have you noticed it?
Fun story: How the artwork was named
I love it when reality is more surprising than fiction. This is one of those stories. Artist Krista Hepford received approval in early 2016 from the owners of 1668 Siskiyou Boulevard to install a mosaic wall mural on the side of their building. But she was stuck. She had ideas, but none seemed right for this spot, at this time. She knew she wanted to create something from discontinued ceramic tile samples.
“Then I saw a paint swatch at Bi-Mart, that yellow color,” Krista told me as she pointed to the wall. “That kinda looks like the creamy yellow of the Ashland Springs Hotel downtown. I like things to look like they belong. And the name of the paint swatch was – ‘Uplifting.'”
“No way,” I replied, incredulous.
“Yes, that’s how ‘Uplifting’ got its name,” Krista confirmed with a laugh.
She even showed me a photo to share with you.
Where you will find “Uplifting”
Uplifting is a large ceramic tile wall mural on the side of the Abbey Carpet & Floor (Carpet Mart) building, located at 1668 Siskiyou Boulevard. If you love chocolate, I’ll tell you it is next to Branson’s Chocolate shop. If you love Thai food, I’ll tell you it is across the street from House of Thai restaurant.
A hidden story
“Have you heard about one of those GPS games called Geocaching?,” Krista asked me as she reached into a hidden spot and pulled out an odd little container. I know very little about it, so she explained that people use an app to find hidden places or ‘treasures’ as they travel.
She went on, “This is an official geocache, and this is how I get a lot of compliments on my artwork. I knew that my artwork was away from downtown Ashland. My daughter was interested in geocaching, so we made this to attract people. Look at all these people who have been here, the most recent one on June 23rd [the day before I interviewed Krista].” Both tourists and locals discover Uplifting through their geocaching searches.
How the wall and the dumpster “inspired” the artwork!
Before she thought of creating art on the wall, she was a customer of Abbey Carpet & Floor. The long blank wall on the side of the building, visible from Siskiyou Boulevard, was hard to miss. Plus it was a magnet for graffiti painters.
She went on to tell me, “I have an interior design degree, so I was remodeling my house and coming here to get supplies. I saw them throwing out marble and beautiful glass tiles. I asked and was told, ‘Well, they’re discontinued.’ So I said to Eric and Dan, the store owners, ‘Why don’t you put that stuff you’re throwing away on your wall instead? Show all that lovely stuff you have on the inside, on the outside.'”
At this point, Krista had no idea what image to put on the wall, just the inspiration to put something there.
She told them, “I could make a bird.”
“You could do that?”
“Yes, I could do that…or something.”
It turned out to be a very large “something.”
“This is my most prized piece that I’ve done.”Krista Hepford
Challenges to overcome: first step, build trust
As Krista explained, “You have to build trust, right?” This happened multiple times in the art project, first with Eric and Dan of Abbey Carpet & Floor. They only knew her as a customer. They didn’t know what she could do, and here she was asking to take over the side of their building. To build trust, she had to pass a test. She explained, “First I had to build this awning for them. Once I built that, they thought, ‘Okay, she has some construction skills. She can do this.'”
“I hope the mural puts a smile on a few faces.Eric Austed, co-owner of the building
I spoke briefly with both Eric Austed and Dan Leary, who own the building and store. Both expressed appreciation for Krista’s work ethic and for the finished artwork. They were impressed by her ability to navigate the city approval process, raise money for the project, hustle for donations of materials, recruit and train volunteer helpers, plus put in countless hours herself over a period of almost two years.
Eric summed up his feelings in a few words. “We are very grateful to Krista and to all the people who helped. I would hope the mural puts a smile on a few faces.”
Challenges to overcome: Public Arts Commission approval
Once she convinced Eric and Dan, she had to build trust with the Public Arts Commission (PAC). I was a little surprised, because Krista had been a commissioner on the PAC in 2013 and 2014. To be fair to the PAC, this was a large art project in a very visible location, so the commission wanted to make sure it would be done right.
When she presented her design to the Public Arts Commission in August of 2016, they were skeptical that she had the skills to create this large public artwork. They were also concerned that the indoor tiles she was saving from the dumpster would deteriorate in the hot sun. Krista explained that the whole point of the artwork was, “I want to save things from the dumpster.”
She returned to the PAC meeting of February 2017 with more details and got approval at that time. However, the commissioners required that she build the wall mural so that it was removable. This made the project more complex than just applying the mosaic tiles to the wall.
Challenges to overcome: no funding
The PAC told Krista that they did not have any funding for this artwork, so she would have to raise the money herself. More allies appeared just as Krista needed them. First, the building owners agreed to supply the grout, cement, bolts, screws and hardware that she needed. Of course, they were already supplying most of the recycled tiles that Krista saved from the dumpster to use in making her mural. With that beginning, Krista felt comfortable to begin fundraising.
Another trust-building process was with the business and residential neighbors of the future artwork. She said, “I would not build something that people in the neighborhood didn’t want.” She made a computer generated illustration to show how the Uplifting mosaic would look on the side of the building. Then, along with her daughter, she took the illustration with a petition and knocked on every business and residential door in the immediate area.
“We showed them the mock-up and asked them to sign if they liked the art. We got 100%. Not a single person said, ‘No, I don’t want that.'”
Showing the mock-up to neighbors jump-started her fundraising. The acupuncturist across the street was a runner and offered to organize a 5K run to raise money for the artwork. Deena at Branson’s Chocolate next door offered to make custom chocolate bars for Krista to sell for fundraising.
Chocolate saved the day in another way
Krista knew a contractor at her church who agreed to help install the hardware to hold the heavy mosaic tile mural pieces. When he had a family emergency and had to withdraw from helping, she faced another challenge. Again, help came in an unexpected way. She told me, “I was selling those chocolate bars at the Grange Coop one day. Nelson Oostenink, the head of the Grange at the time, happened to be a contractor. He got interested in my project and said ‘I’ll help you out.’ He installed, welded and donated the hardware.”
Challenges to overcome: materials stolen
One more hurdle! After she had navigated the Public Arts Commission process, she got to the site one day to find that all the recycled ceramic tile display boards she had been saving behind the building for a year were gone, stolen. She had to start over, collecting and saving from the beginning again. She stayed positive, because “every hurdle that I hit, something good happened to change that. One of Abbey Carpet & Floor’s suppliers said, ‘We’ll start bringing you everything that we get rid of or discontinue,’ so my pile got bigger faster. It was actually even higher quality tile than I had collected before.”
How “Uplifting” was designed
Krista expressed again and again during our talk that Uplifting was a community project. From fundraising to construction to simple encouragement, many people chipped in to help her create this artwork.
Let’s go back to the beginning. You read the story above describing how the artwork got the name “Uplifting.” From that name, a design began to crystallize in Krista’s imagination. She explained how difficult the year 2016 had been for her, with so much negative news in the media. It weighed on her, the feeling she is only one person and she can’t do anything about it. “It started to overwhelm me,” she said, “and that mixed with finding the Uplifting idea led to this design as my reaction to all the negativity in the world. That’s why there are all different colors, because there are no races in here. Most of all, it’s about being kind to one another, reaching out to one another.”
The fingernails, the door and the window
I pointed to the glass tile fingernails that stand out. Krista surprised me by saying those were put together by kindergarteners and elementary school kids. Their participation meant a lot to her, because she wanted to involve the community.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Medford donated the old door.
Here is some frustrated-artist humor from Krista on September 24, 2017: “Eeeeerrrrrrrg! Building a crooked window to look in perspective is a LOT harder than drawing one!!!” See photo below for the crooked window layout.
On September 27, 2017 Krista wrote: “Getting close to the finish line so that means…. energy and money is running low. Thanks to Trinity! My new volunteer who helped me work out the window. She was just traveling through Ashland and bought a mural candy bar at ShopNKart!”
What happened when Krista got bored
“I got bored right around here,” Krista said as she pointed to the lower arm. “This arm was the last piece. I needed to do something different to make this more interesting to me.”
“Look closely at it. You can see here is a child, and the child is pointing up at something. There is a butterfly, and the butterfly is flying towards a flower.” Making these playful touches brought the mosaic alive for her again.
Another financial angel
I described some of Krista’s fundraising joys and struggles above. That money covered the cost of everything in the artwork that was not donated. It did not cover her final months of work to build this huge art project. Another financial angel appeared, the Haines & Friends Fund, which offers stipends periodically to artists and art projects.
One of the fund directors saw a newspaper article about Krista’s art project and reached out to her. They suggested that she apply for a grant. Happily surprised, Krista applied and did receive funding. She told me, “That made a huge difference, in terms of support for the final three months of time I put into this.”
Krista described many other “angels” to me. “The real support is that every time I was out here working, there was someone keeping me going. Joggers going by yelled out, ‘Wow, we really love that.’ One time I was up there on the scaffold and a fellow came over and he sang a song to me (a Native American song). He said, ‘The universe is happy with you.’ Some people came over to say ‘Can we help?’ and I’d say ‘Here, grab a sponge and wipe down some tiles.'”
She felt like she was at the center of community building, right there in the parking lot on Siskiyou Boulevard.
Krista’s artistic journey
Krista has been an online art teacher and artist for many years, but she took a circuitous route to get here. She was raised in a musical family, and in high school felt pushed to meet her parents’ expectations to pursue music rather than art.
After high school, she studied accounting and went to work for General Motors. Later, she felt called to go back to college to study art and interior design. Since then, she has taught art in Arizona, Kansas, and for a while at Willow Wind school in Ashland, as well as online.
Other artworks by Krista
Like Uplifting, the mosaic tile artwork below was made from discontinued tile samples. She describes it as “an inspirational tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn and street music in general.” You can find it at her art web page.
When Krista sent me photos that give a sample of her other artworks, she also sent these words: “I no longer believe in making art simply for beauty or art’s sake. I feel that art should have form and function – as in… I need a chair so why not have it also be art – or art should have a deeper meaning. There is the joy of creativity, but for it to be art for the public, it should have a purpose beyond the artist’s joy.”
What does Uplifting mean to you?
Krista hesitates to assign a meaning to this artwork, because we each bring our own life experiences to it when we view it. She told me that some people see two people shaking hands. Others see one person reaching out to someone else who needs help. I see layers: human caring, spiritual symbolism and also new doors opening as we go through life.
What do you see?
The article headline: “Uplifting: art to inspire kindness”
We come full circle back to the headline of my photo essay. Krista hopes that her artwork will, in some small way, inspire people to reach out to one another with kindness. If you feel moved, please visit her benevolence website.
“I hope you will take the inspiration you have from this artwork and go do some good.”Krista Hepford
Hepford, Krista. Interview and personal communications, June 2021.
Public Arts Commission. Meeting minutes.