The mural John Gaffey painted: “hidden” neighborhood art

John Gaffey wall mural in Ashland.

The mural John Gaffey painted: “hidden” neighborhood art

See Ashland locals from 1990.
Artist: John Gaffey.
“Hidden art” on a downtown path.
Ashland Neighborhood Art series.

He was an artist and a bartender. Where have you heard that before? Too often, I expect. It is tough to make a living as an artist, including with art in Ashland. That was the case for the creator of this “hidden” mural. He never gave it a name, so I have dubbed it “The mural John Gaffey painted.” Yes, I did receive his blessing to call it that in my writing. 

An artist’s life

John traces his artistic beginnings back to taking photographs at sports events while in junior high school. At the University of Oregon, he entered the landscape architecture program. But painting and figure drawing called to him. He dropped out of college to paint and create art.

John Gaffey painting.
The title of this John Gaffey painting is “Boat at Tomales Bay.” (photo provided by John Gaffey)

I asked, “How did that work out?”
John replied, with a laugh: “Badly. I pursued being an artist, a painter. Now I call myself a recovering artist.”

John Gaffey painting
The title of this John Gaffey painting is “Coffee at Garo’s.” (photo provided by John Gaffey)

That led to the income-producing part of his life as primarily a bartender and cook, the noble professions of serving others in restaurants. Though he joked about himself as “a recovering artist,” he continued to paint because he loved it. Through the years, he was able to show his paintings at Hanson Howard Gallery in Ashland, as well as galleries in Portland and other cities. He spoke of Judy Howard, former owner of the gallery, with reverence in his voice. “Judy is a marvelous artist herself, and what a supporter of the arts here in this town. Marvelous woman. I was really happy to have a number of shows with her.”  

John Gaffey book cover.
John drew the illustrated book cover for “Dog Park, the Musical.” (photo at Google Books)

Favorite bartender 1991

From the Sneak Preview monthly magazine, January 1991 “Best of Ashland:”

“Favorite Bartender – John Gaffey”

Note: John also did the artwork for the front cover of the January 24, 1991 Sneak Preview.

Sneak Preview magazine cover, January 24, 1991.
John Gaffey did the cover illustration for the Sneak Preview magazine dated January 24, 1991. This is the issue in which John was named “Favorite Bartender.” (photo provided by Curtis Hayden, Sneak Preview editor)

How the mural came to be

John was commissioned to paint this mural in 1990 by Matthew Haines, local attorney and long-time supporter of visual arts in Ashland. 

“Rather than paint it on the side of the building,” John explained, “we decided to do it on boards – the stuff that professional sign board painters would use.” His studio wasn’t large enough for this size project. Fortunately, he had many friends at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) through his bartending job at Chateaulin restaurant. In addition to having delicious food, Chateaulin was one of the few restaurants still open after OSF evening plays ended around 11:00 pm, so OSF actors and staff often gathered there. 

John’s friendships opened the door for him to paint at the OSF Scene Shop. At the time he painted, all of the shows for the year were up and running, so the scene shop was basically empty. You can see the size of the billboard sized panel in the scene shop photo below.

John Gaffey mural.
John Gaffey’s mural was painted in the OSF Scene Shop in 1990. (photo provided by John Gaffey)

John laughed as he showed me the photo below and told me, “My wife did help me. There she is working on herself!” 

John Gaffey mural.
John’s wife Wendy is painting herself in this 1990 photo. (photo provided by John Gaffey)

Once the painting was done, the heavy boards had to go up on the side of the building. John recruited friends to help him do the installation during Labor Day weekend of 1990. The mural has held up well so far (21 years at the time of our interview), partly because it’s on a northwest facing wall.

John Gaffey mural.
John’s friends helped him install the mural. (photo provided by John Gaffey)
John Gaffey wall mural in Ashland.
John Gaffey’s mural was installed during Labor Day weekend in 1990. (photo provided by John Gaffey)

The people in the mural

“The people in the mural were all people I knew.” 

John Gaffey

John gave me the names of the people he painted. I added my own research notes about some of the people below.

The bottom half of the mural, from left to right.

Linda Alper: Linda performed more than 50 roles at OSF during 23 seasons. My wife Kathy called her “the best Rosalind I ever saw in As You Like It.” In addition to acting, Linda has co-written adaptations and translations of multiple plays for OSF, including Great ExpectationsTracy’s Tiger and Saturday, Sunday, Monday. She continues to act and write, this season (2022) at the Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland.

Linda’s husband Kevin Cooney: On the website Goodreads, I counted 107 books that Kevin and Linda have co-authored. All together they created many different book series in the 1980s and 1990s. Their books seem to all be aimed at the young adult reader. For example, there’s the Freshman Dorm series of 32 books and the Couples series of 36 books! In addition to being a prolific writer, Kevin taught English and Social Studies in the Ashland public schools.

Linda and Kevin’s twins Rose and Henry: The young twins are all grown up now, already into their 30s. According to their mom, Rose lives in Chicago with her wife, Alex Song, and their 3 cats, and does business affairs for a venture capitalist. Henry lives in Oakland, with his rescue German Shepard, Sammy, and works as a Senior Software Engineer for Nvidia.  

Detail from the John Gaffey mural.
On the left are Linda Alper and her husband Kevin Cooney, with their children Rose and Henry. The skater on the right is Piper Rovin. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Piper Rovin: Piper is the name of the woman on roller skates. She went everywhere in town on roller skates back in the day.

Henry Mangravite: (1911 – 1999) John described Henry as “a town character and the owner of Mangravite Art Supply on B Street and Third Street.” Henry was born in Italy and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Here are some excerpts from his obituary. “During the Depression, he worked as a commercial artist, designing movie posters for MGM. After he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, he married Florence Casazza in 1946. They moved to California, where he worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Walt Disney Company. He then began a new career in retail mall development on both coasts.”

“After his wife’s death in 1971, he returned to his original avocation as a painter and ran an art supply business in the San Francisco area. In 1980, he moved to Ashland, where he reopened his art supply store and added a gallery. He was well-known for dressing up like Uncle Sam and giving away replicas of the Bill of Rights during Ashland’s Fourth of July celebrations.” 

Detail from John Gaffey mural.
This detail from the John Gaffey mural shows Henry Mangravite, “a town character and the owner of Mangravite Art Supply.” (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The top half of the mural, from left to right.

Wendy Gaffey: John’s wife Wendy was a fellow painter, as well as a long-time nurse.

Doug Markkanen: Doug is playing guitar in the mural. He was also an OSF actor for many seasons, from at least 1983 until 1997. When he played Grumio in OSF’s 1984 run of The Taming of the Shrew, a reviewer wrote: “The entire cast gets into the spirit of enthusiastic fooling. Douglas Markkanen, in particular, swipes scenes right and left as Petruchio’s manic servant, Grumio.” His acting was praised again in 1985, for his performance as Edgar in King Lear. “Douglas Markkanen …  is such a good Edgar that even his mad banter makes sense.”

Detail from John Gaffey mural.
Wendy Gaffey and Doug Markkanen are shown in the window toward the top of the mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Dave Halstead and Melanie Charley: John knew Melanie and Dave, shown on the balcony, from his visits to Garo’s Java House, where Hither Coffee and Goods is now located. 

Detail of John Gaffey mural.
John knew Dave Halstead and Melanie Charley through Garo’s Java House. They are on the balcony toward the top of the mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Where you will find the mural

I half-jokingly call this “hidden art” because it is not visible from the street. It is art for walkers, not drivers. If you haven’t yet seen this mural, look for it on the back wall of the Taj Restaurant/31 Pub building along Water Street. Walking the lovely path through Bluebird Park along Ashland Creek will take you by the mural.

Taj Indian restaurant building on Water Street.
“The mural John Gaffey painted” is on the back wall of this building along Water Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)
Bluebird Park in Ashland.
Looking down into Bluebird Park from North Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)
Bluebird Park in Ashland.
Photo taken in Bluebird Park. Keep walking this path to see the mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)
John Gaffey mural.
When you go around the corner, here it is. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)
John Gaffey mural.
“The mural John Gaffey painted” is barely visible from Lithia Way. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)


Alper, Linda. Personal communication, May 2022.
Anon. Henry Mangravite obituary.

Gaffey, John. Interview and personal communications, October 2021 and other dates.

Hayden, Curtis. “The Best of Ashland 2017: Part 1,” Sneak Preview, January 2017.

O’Connor, J. & Goodland, K. “A Directory of Shakespeare in Performance 1970 – 1990: Volume 2, USA and Canada,” Springer publishing, 2019. 

O’Connor, J. & Goodland, K. “A Directory of Shakespeare in Performance Since 1991: Volume 3, USA and Canada,” Springer publishing, 2011. 

  • Zachary King
    Posted at 09:54h, 09 June Reply

    Holy crap, Vanessa! Yup, that’s Dave & Melanie

  • vanessa gallegos
    Posted at 09:14h, 24 May Reply

    The couple painted but not named is: Dave and Melanie.. I’m surprised no one else has named them yet.

  • Gabriel Lipper
    Posted at 12:25h, 23 May Reply

    I’ve always loved this mural. I came back here from Portland in 1993 so it’s felt like it has always been here. I love grabbing a slice of pizza and a a beer and staring at it from the Creekside windows. It’s great to know some of the backstory. I always wondered who those people were.

    Posted at 17:10h, 22 May Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful article!!

  • Michael W Seidel
    Posted at 19:38h, 19 May Reply

    I love this mural and pass it often. I’d wondered about its backstory and who the people are. Thanks for sharing the tale. Cheers, Michael

  • Vicki Bamman
    Posted at 14:29h, 19 May Reply

    What a great find and thank you for sharing–and especially for the background.

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