“Seasons of Gratitude:” Art at the Food Bank

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.

“Seasons of Gratitude:” Art at the Food Bank

This mural honors Food Bank users.
“Hidden” public art on Clover Lane.
25 photos!
Ashland Public Art series.
Artist: Denise Baxter.

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
Sign for the “Seasons of Gratitude” mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Three quotes that point to the power of Public Art

“From the inside, our new building was perfect for a food bank…. However, from the outside you could see the building was the remnants of a fast-food place.”  

Pam Marsh

While I was very impressed with the program, I said: “Why do services for those in need always have to be in dingy, ugly buildings?”  

Barry Thalden

“We now have a food bank that is marked by astounding public art, creating a space for people that is respectful and honorable for people who come to get help. I think it is important that we can provide this beautiful space for people who are coming, sometimes at a very low point in their lives.” 

Pam Marsh

These detail photos show the beauty of the mural

From birth to magic

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank was born in 1972. Artist Denise Baxter was born in 19??. Here are stories of how they came together and made magic in 2014. 

As I spoke with former Food Bank director Pam Marsh, her statement about “creating a space for people that is respectful and honorable for people who come to get help” stopped me in my tracks.

Who are the people who come to get help?

First let’s look at the people, then the artwork, then bring them together. Many people in Ashland struggle with food insecurity each month. Some are seniors who have to decide whether to spend the last money they have for the month on food or medicine. Some are families with children who go to school hungry and depend on the school lunch programs for a nutritious meal. These are people who come to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. 

According to the Food Bank website: “The Food Bank serves nearly 650 families from Ashland and Talent each month. This translates to feeding about 1,700 people per month [about 6% of the local population] – and 35% of those families have children under the age of 18. Oregon and Jackson County’s hunger and food insecurity rate remains one of the highest in the nation. As an emergency food bank, our shoppers come one time per month and we provide enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 2-3 days. This is often the bridge that helps families get through the month. No one can focus on life’s problems until they and their children are fed.”

Genesis of the mural – Pam Marsh’s perspective

Pam told me: “I got a call from Kathryn Thalden when she was new to the community. She asked what she could do to contribute to our Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. Later, we introduced her to our Capital Campaign [the name of the fundraiser to buy the building]. Barry and Kathryn Thalden were very significant donors to our Capital Campaign.” 

Thanks to many generous donors, including a grant from the City of Ashland, the Food Bank was able to buy their building in August 2013. After renting space since 1972, and moving many times, the Food Bank was thrilled for this building to be their long-term home – with just one drawback. Why? Pam went on: “From the inside, our new building was perfect for a food bank – walk-in freezer, walk-in refrigerator, lots of space for shelving, the overhang for food drop-off drivers. However, from the outside you could see the building was the remnants of a fast-food place.” It looked like a fast-food place because the building was put up for a KFC and A&W (chicken and root beer) franchise location, which failed and closed.

Ashland Emergency Food Bank
This is what the Food Bank building looked like before its beautification and mural painting. (photo provided by Barry Thalden)

Pam concluded this part of her story. “After we bought the building, the Thaldens approached us and said they had this concept for a mural on the side of the building. They offered to paint the building and then place the mural on the side. This incredible gift was really a breath-taking transformation.”

One reason why I enjoy writing about public art

I enjoy learning why and how public art is created. It is usually a collaborative process, not the solitary process we often associate with art. For example, you might picture a painter who sits in her studio, has an idea, then paints that idea on a canvas. Creating public art usually involves dozens (or hundreds) of people and months of back and forth collaboration (sometimes with conflicting points of view). The process can be frustrating at times, but when it clicks, bonds are built and strengthened within the community.

Genesis of the mural – the Thaldens’ perspective

That is why I am glad when I can speak personally with not only the artist, but also people involved in the creation before the artist was even chosen. You heard the bare bones of Kathryn and Barry’s contributions to the food bank from Pam’s story. Barry filled in meaningful details.

“Kathryn and I had recently moved to Ashland. As she always does, she found a way to be of service to the community. She was helping at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. One day she came home and exclaimed: ‘This is an amazing program. You have got to see what they are doing.’ So, she drove me there and showed it to me. 

“While I was very impressed with the program, I said: ‘Why do services for those in need always have to be in dingy, ugly buildings?’ It was at that point that we decided to do something about it. Working with Rep. Pam Marsh, who at the time was the Food Bank director, we embarked on a program to repaint the entire building, add decorative awnings and landscaping, and to commission a mural for the large blank wall.”

Ashland Emergency Food Bank before and after.
These before and after photos show the transformation of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. (photos provided by Barry Thalden)

Choosing the artist

Kathryn Thalden picked up the story here. She said that she and Barry didn’t know local artists, since they were new to Ashland. They did know Lloyd Matthew Haines, who had commissioned four artists to paint large canvases for a public art installation on the underside of the Lithia Way overpass. Kathryn said that when she and Barry went there, “One of the paintings stood out for us, both in style and color. Denise Baxter was the artist.”

"The Path to Joy and Unity," artist Denise Baxter
These two paintings by Denise Baxter are part of the public artwork called “The Path to Joy and Unity.” Seeing these motivated the Thaldens to choose Denise Baxter as the Food Bank mural artist. (photo provided by Denise Baxter)

Here’s another perspective, from Denise. “Barry and Kathryn called me up and asked to meet about their mural concept on the recently purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken located on Clover Lane at the south side of town. Both explained that they wanted to remove all sight of Kentucky Fried Chicken from the location. The new Food Bank would have a homey, welcoming feel and in addition to new paint, landscaping and some minor construction, the site would host a beautiful and welcoming mural. The conversation was pretty open ended and they explained that I could come up with some ideas to present to them and see where that led.” 

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural dedication 8/3/2014.
From left, Barry Thalden, Denise Baxter, Kathryn Thalden, on mural dedication day. (photo provided by Barry Thalden)

Denise Baxter’s design for the mural

The mural is called “Seasons of Gratitude.” Denise tried to depict the harmony of nature and people coexisting. She included illustrations of local sites that people could recognize, as well as the flow of life and growing food here in the Rogue Valley through the year. 

As she put it, “There are places depicted. Emigrant lake frozen over, the hills around us, Lithia Park’s creek where families play in the water. Just showing activities of people appreciating their community and enjoying the outdoors at all seasons. You can see the seasons, right? [From left to right on the mural,] the first is winter and then in spring they are planting, summer they are playing in the water, fall they are reaping the crops. It is about people enjoying the seasons, nature, and using the land to reap the benefits in the end. Seasons of gratitude.” 

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
This photo shows artist Denise Baxter with her original illustration for the “Seasons of Gratitude” mural in June 2014. (photo from AEFB Facebook page)

When Denise took her design to the AEFB board, they loved it. Time to start painting?

Wait…it’s public art, so it needs many approvals!

No, not time to start painting yet. After approval by the AEFB board, the mural design and comprehensive information related to the painting of the mural had to be presented to the Ashland Public Arts Commission (PAC). Pam Marsh, Denise Baxter and the Thaldens went to the PAC meeting. 

Minutes of the March 21, 2014 meeting state that: “Baxter presented her rendering to the Commission and explained she will use students to help execute the piece. The finished mural will measure 18’ x 52’. Baxter expects to begin the project in June and complete the work within four weeks. This is the first time a mural application has come to the PAC using the mural guidelines developed by the PAC last July. Both the applicant and the artist commented on the ease and professionalism of the process.”

PAC approved the mural, but it was still not time to start painting. New public artworks in Ashland must also be approved by the City Council. In this case, Council approval came in a record-setting time of ten days after PAC approval!

Now it was time to start painting.

Painting the mural

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
Artist Denise Baxter is shown early in the mural painting process, on June 29, 2014. (photo from the AEFB Facebook page)

Denise had an illustration of the mural and a wall 18′ high and 52′ wide. That is a big “canvas!” She explained to me that she “had done some larger outdoor installation work in the past but nothing as large as the food bank wall. Nothing that required scaffolding and a team to make it happen in a short amount of time. So that was a fun idea and I knew I could do it but would have to learn some new skills at the same time. It felt like a fun challenge.” 

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural team.
“Seasons of Gratitude” mural team in late June 2014. (photo by George Kramer, 2014)

To create the painting team, she found art students from Southern Oregon University to assist her. In terms of new skills, she learned the process of using a grid to scale up from an illustration to a massive wall. If you would like to learn how that is done, it is explained in my article about the large, colorful Guanajuato mural on Calle Guanajuato in Ashland.

CLICK HERE TO READ “Las Calles de Guanajuato” mural article

In late June 2014, the wall was prepped and Denise began by drawing outlines of the primary elements of the mural artwork. Then the painting team stepped in and began filling in colors. Denise explained to me that the big blocks of color always go on the wall quickly, but painting every detail on a 936 square foot mural takes a lot of patience and time. With Denise’s skill and many helpers, the mural appears to have been completed by mid-July. 

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
“Seasons of Gratitude” mural in process on June 30, 2014. (photo by George Kramer, 2014)
"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
Touch up painting as the mural is almost complete. (photo by George Kramer, 2014)
"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
“Seasons of Gratitude” mural freshly painted. (photo by Denise Baxter, 2014)

Pam Marsh evoked a laugh when she told me: “What I remember from the actual construction of the mural was Denise and her interns on big lifts on the side of the building and feeding them popsicles because of the hot summer days. 

Dedication day – August 3, 2014

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural dedication poster.
Poster for “Seasons of Gratitude” mural dedication day on August 3, 2014. (photo from AEFB Facebook page)

With so many volunteers and people who appreciate the Food Bank, there was a large turnout for the mural dedication. Here are some photos taken that day.

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural dedication 8/3/2014.
Artist Denise Baxter speaking at the “Seasons of Gratitude” mural dedication on August 3, 2014. (photo from AEFB Facebook page)
"Seasons of Gratitude" mural dedication 8/3/2014.
“Seasons of Gratitude” mural dedication day on August 3, 2014. (photo provided by Barry Thalden)

Value of public art

As Denise was painting the Food Bank mural, she saw that people who came to pick up food were uplifted by seeing the Food Bank mural. She wrote me, “They were so grateful and so happy that we cared to make the space pleasant.” Public art can change the energy of a building or a neighborhood. It can reach people emotionally, to uplift us or to challenge us.

I think it is worth reading Pam Marsh’s quote again, since it speaks to the value of this public art in this space. She told me: “We now have a food bank that is marked by astounding public art, creating a space for people that is respectful and honorable for people to come to get help. I think it is important that we can provide this beautiful space for people who are coming, sometimes at a very low point in their lives.” 

Photos of the four seasons shown in the mural

Ashland Emergency Food Bank COMMITMENT

The Food Bank plays such a vital role in our community that I’d like to end this article by telling you a little more about it. After 50 years, the food bank still has this commitment: “One thing has remained constant – our mission. That is, to provide food, free of charge, to residents of Ashland, Talent and surrounding rural communities, and to do so in a way that conveys respect and dignity for those being served.” 

Ashland Emergency Food Bank TIMELINE

1972: The AEFB was founded by Rogue Valley Church Women United, “who believed that no one in our community should go to bed hungry.” It was first located in the basement of a small house next to Trinity Episcopal Church, where the church labyrinth is now.

After that, the Food Bank moved to various garages around town.

Year?: A more stable home was found in the Newman Center at Southern Oregon University, which was owned by Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church.

1998: The Food Bank moved to the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland (ICCA) building on North Second Street in downtown Ashland.

2002: 560 Clover Lane was built for a Kentucky Fried Chicken and A&W Root Beer franchise restaurant.

2006: The ICCA building was sold, and the Food Bank moved to 2200 Ashland Street, owned by Alan DeBoer. He generously rented it to AEFB for a nominal amount.

2008: John Schweiger bought the building and continued the favorable rent arrangement with the food bank.

2009: The Ashland Food Project was founded, to make it easy for Ashland residents to donate food to those in need. Food collected every other month is donated to the AEFB.

2011: In October 2011, AEFB moved to current location at 560 Clover Lane. The organization arranged a lease-purchase option with property owner People’s Bank of Commerce. They had until August 2013 to come up with $475,000 to buy the building and property.

2012: Volunteers contributed 5,180 hours of help to the food bank in 2012.

2013: In August 2013, AEFB purchases the building at 560 Clover Lane.

2014: The “Seasons of Gratitude” mural is dedicated on August 3, 2014.

2017: Volunteers contributed over 7,000 hours of help to the Food Bank in 2017. The Ashland Food Project provides the Food Bank with about 48% of their non-perishable food donations.

Art inside the Food Bank

In October 2014, a group came together in Ashland to create art — mosaic art. Dawn Mendelson, a Southern California artist, coordinated two “Mosaicathons” in Ashland in 2014 and 2015. Their 2014 project was for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. The group shown in the second photo below completed this beautiful 3′ wide by 4′ high mosaic mural in one weekend! For their 2015 project, the group created 11 mosaic stepping stones for the North Mountain Park Nature Center. I will write about those another time (but you can go see them for yourself at North Mountain Park).

AEFB mosaic mural created by the Contemporary Mosaic Arts Summit in October 2014. (photo from the AEFB Facebook page)
Mosaic artists who attended the 2014 Contemporary Mosaic Arts Summit in Ashland and made this mosaic artwork. (photo from the AEFB Facebook page)

Here is my 2021 photo of the “Seasons of Gratitude” mural in context

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural, by Denise Baxter.
Ashland Emergency Food Bank and “Seasons of Gratitude” mural at 560 Clover Lane, Ashland. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

References:

Ashland Emergency Food Bank, “Capital Campaign draft document,” provided by Pam Marsh.

Ashland Emergency Food Bank website. [accessed December 2021)

Baxter, Denise. Personal communications, September 2021. Denise is the mural artist and provided some of the photographs in this article.

Kramer, George. Personal communications, October 2021. George is the current (January 2021) President of the AEFB Board and provided some of the photographs in this article.

Marsh, Pam. Personal communications, December 2021. Pam was the Food Bank Director at the time the mural was painted.

Mendelson, Dawn. Website. [accessed October 2021]
https://www.dawnmendelson.com/community-projects

Public Arts Commission. Minutes of meeting, March 21, 2014, City of Ashland website.

Thalden, Barry and Kathryn. Personal communications, November 2021. The Thaldens commissioned the mural and provided some of the photographs in this article.

4 Comments
  • Carol S. Browning
    Posted at 15:34h, 11 January Reply

    This is an incredible mural. As are the folks who work here and shop here!

  • Margaret Wallar
    Posted at 11:11h, 08 January Reply

    Just incredible! Thank you to all who sponsored & created this beauty!!!

    • Peter Finkle
      Posted at 11:54h, 08 January Reply

      Well said, Margaret.
      Many people helped create the beautiful mural, and even more people help keep the Food Bank going – and serving those in need – year after year.
      Peter

  • Barbara J Keen
    Posted at 14:59h, 06 January Reply

    Amazing murals, loved the stories, fantastic people who participated to make an ordinary building such an inviting work of art. It is not only welcoming, but speaks to the lovely folks who frequent the Ashland Food Bank.
    Thanks for adding to the beauty of our fair city. And thanks to Peter for publishing this.

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