“Uplifting” – Art to inspire kindness

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?

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Uplifting as seen from Siskiyou Blvd. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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?

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Overview of Uplifting by Krista Hepford, located at 1668 Siskiyou Boulevard. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Notice the creamy yellow color of the upper left color block. This early photo shows blocks of color, structural steel and the two faces. (photo by Krista Hepford)

“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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Here is the color swatch that led to the name of this artwork: Uplifting. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
This official geocache box is located at the Uplifting artwork. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon, geocaching
This official geocache box and sign-in sheet is located at the Uplifting artwork. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Here is the wall in April 2017 before Krista began building Uplifting here. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.'” 

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
This photo shows a small sample of the discontinued ceramic tile samples that Krista worked with. The samples in this photo were from Tile & Stone Design. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.'”

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Krista built this awning to build trust with Eric and Dan of Abbey Carpet & Floor. (photo by Peter Finkle)

“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. 

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Early sketch by Krista Hepford for Uplifting. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.

Uplifting, Ashland public art
This photo shows a detail of the steel structure that Uplifting mosaic tile boards are attached to. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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. 

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Krista’s fundraising display at the Ashland Art Center in April 2017. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.”

Here is Krista with Nelson Oostenink. (photo by Andrea Carmichael)

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. 

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Uplifting, showing detail of glass tile fingernails. (photo by Krista Hepford)

The Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Medford donated the old door. 

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Uplifting by Krista Hepford, door detail. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Trying to figure out the “crooked window,” September 25, 2017. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.”

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Uplifting by Krista Hepford, close-up of the arm on the right. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

“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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Uplifting detail showing the child (lower left), who is pointing to the butterfly (center right), which is flying up to the flower (top right). (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

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.” 

Non-financial angels

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
This photo shows a few of the many people who helped Krista create Uplifting. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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

Krista Hepford
Krista made this COVID-19 themed collage in early 2020. It sold at the Rochester Museum of Art in April 2020. (photo by Krista Hepford)
Krista Hepford
Krista made this practical yet whimsical driftwood artwork. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.

Krista Hepford
“Beyond the Blues” by Krista Hepford. (photo by Krista Hepford)

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.

Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Krista Hepford (in the center, wearing a tool belt) and some of the many “angels” who helped her. (photographer not known)

“I hope you will take the inspiration you have from this artwork and go do some good.”

Krista Hepford
Uplifting, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Krista’s “thank you” board, located next to the Uplifting artwork. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

References:

Facebook page for Uplifting.

Hepford, Krista. Interview and personal communications, June 2021.

Public Arts Commission. Meeting minutes.

Ashland & Guanajuato Murals: Sister City Public Art

“Las Calles de Guanajuato,” Guanajuato mural in Ashland.
Artist: Loreta (Laura Rangel Villasenor).
“Where Culture Meets Nature,” Ashland mural in Guanajuato.
Artist: Denise Baxter.
27 Photos.
Ashland Public Art series.

“This is a wall that brings culture, nations, cities and people together.”

Barry Thalden

It’s clearly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Guanajuato
Guanajuato – panorama, 2008. (photo by Russ Bowling, Wikimedia Commons)

 Here is the genesis of this beautiful mural. Kathryn and Barry Thalden were looking for a location for another mural after they had sponsored the spectacular mural at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. Barry confessed to me: “In truth, we didn’t have a location and we didn’t even have a theme.  When visiting Mexico in 2015, we decided to stop in Guanajuato for a couple days and see Ashland’s sister city for the first time. When we got to Guanajuato, we were literally blown away. It’s clearly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When we got back to Ashland, we thought that the wall where you now see the mural would be the perfect location for a mural. It’s on Calle Guanajuato, and our sister city Guanajuato would be the perfect subject!” 

Guanajuato
Guanajuato – Plaza de San Fernando, 2012 (photo by Marco Antionio Torres, Wikimedia Commons)
University of Guanajuato
University of Guanajuato, 2006 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“We knew the minute we saw those that she was our artist.”

Kathryn Thalden

Finding Loreta in Guanajuato

Barry and Kathryn Thalden went back in January 2016 to choose a Guanajuato artist to paint a mural in Ashland. Kathryn picked up the story: “Loreta was selling small paintings on the Plaza in Guanajuato, and we saw her work with buildings. She depicted Guanajuato in such a colorful way, and we knew the minute we saw those that she was our artist.”

Painting by Loreta
One of Loreta’s small paintings of Guanajuato from 2011. (from Loreta’s website)

Choosing Denise Baxter in Ashland

Reaching out to Denise Baxter again for help was a no-brainer for the Thaldens. As mentioned in the initial quote from Barry Thalden, they had experience with commissioning a large mural at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank on Clover Lane. Baxter was the artist who designed and painted that mural, called “Seasons of Gratitude,” in 2014. She also coordinated the project, including making the hundreds of little decisions that have to be made in a project of this size. 

"Seasons of Gratitude" mural in Ashland
Detail of “Seasons of Gratitude” mural at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, painted by Denise Baxter in 2014. (photo courtesy of Denise Baxter)

Based on their experience with Baxter, the Thaldens asked her to be project manager for the Calle Guanajuato mural, and she accepted. The artist from Guanajuato could not be expected to buy materials in Ashland, or rent scaffolding and lift trucks. 

The Thaldens wanted the mural completed by July 4, 2016, when representatives of Guanajuato would be in town for their annual Independence Day visit to Ashland. That left only five months for the entire process, including the painting!

Ashland’s approval process can be very complex

I don’t want to bore you, but I think it is important to know how difficult it can be to get an art project approved in Ashland. Naturally, getting approval of the Public Arts Commission was the first step. Since the mural was to be painted on a building within the downtown Historic District, the Historic Commission also had to approve it. After that came the Parks Department and the Parks Commission, because the Calle Guanajuato corridor on both sides of Ashland Creek is one of our city parks. The city Planning Department had to give their okay to the mural. Finally, after all of those presentations and approvals, the Ashland City Council had to give their approval for painting to begin.

Was that everything? Well, almost. Prior to city approvals, the Thaldens and Baxter needed, and received, the okay of the building owner. Prior to painting, they worked out logistics with the Lithia Artisans Guild, whose members sell products from booths along Calle Guanajuato every weekend during the summer. 

Baxter’s organizational skills

With the goal of completion before July 4, Loreta had only five weeks from start to finish once she arrived in Ashland. In order to smooth the process, Baxter did a lot of ground work before Loreta arrived. She drew upon her organizational skill set, completely separate from her artistic skill set. She found and outfitted a mobile art studio, got a permit for it to be located at the site, arranged for scaffolding and a cherry picker (boom lift). She got the wall prepped for painting, including a base layer of primer paint. Since a mural of this size is normally not painted by one person, Baxter chose five people to assist Loreta, two of whom were Southern Oregon University art majors.

Grid skills

Though Loreta had painted interior walls of houses, she had never tackled a huge exterior wall mural. With a mural this large, you have to first create a grid on the wall that matches the grid of the design on paper, which is a specific skill set. Fortunately Denise had these skills, so she assisted Loreta in creating the grid. For example, one inch on the paper design might correspond to one foot on the wall mural.

Of course, some of those grid squares were 15 or 20 feet off the ground. Denise laughed as she said, “We were given a picture of the mural with the grid drawn on it, so we were up there with rulers on the boom lift which none of us were really comfortable with at first.” I found it interesting to learn that the grid lines were drawn with waterproof chalk so that rain wouldn’t wash it away. And there was rain, as you will see below. When painting began, it was applied right over the chalk lines, so they disappeared from view.

"Las Calles de Guanajuato" mural in Ashland
This overview shows how large the “Las Calles de Guanajuato” mural is. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

One professional approach to mural painting

Baxter described to me how a mural grid works. It’s a series of squares or rectangles. Let’s say the top left square on the wall is square number 1. You would look at the same square number 1 on the small drawing and paint what is in that square on square number 1 on the wall. Breaking it down this way, it is a step by step process.

"Las Calles de Guanajuato" mural in Ashland
Loreta and Denise Baxter. Denise is showing Loreta’s original illustration from which the mural was painted. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

1. Draw the original design on paper.

2. Draw a grid over the original design on paper.

3. Draw a corresponding grid on the mural wall.

4. Draw a line drawing of mural objects within each grid on the wall.

5. Paint blocks of color within the line drawings in each grid on the wall.

You can see the chalk lines that guided placement of the first blocks of color painted on the mural wall. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

6. Paint to fill in the details of the original design on the wall.

Fun photo that shows two boom lifts plus two ladders all being used to make progress on the mural painting.(photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

7. Go over mistakes with additional layers of paint, as needed.

Las Calles de Guanajuato mural, Ashland
This photo shows Loreta (wearing white) guiding an SOU student assistant painter. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

To minimize mistakes, Baxter generally paints a mural top to bottom and back to front. For example, if the mural includes a sky, it would normally be at the top and in the background from the point of view of the person viewing the mural. That would be the place to begin painting. Then clouds or trees or buildings would start being layered (painted) over the sky and other blocks of color. People or scenes in the foreground of the mural, closest to the person viewing the mural, would generally be painted last. This is when smaller paint brushes are used to add fine details to a mural.

"Las Calles de Guanajuato" mural in Ashland
Detail of “Las Calles de Guanajuato” mural in Ashland. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2017)

The day it rained

In the Nisha Burton video, assistant painter Carlos Barcuto said, “We were painting and it started raining. So the wet colors started running down over the rest of the painting, so we had to cover everything with plastic in two minutes in order to save the whole thing.” A female voice added, “I was out there with a towel going, ‘No, you will not ruin this part for me.’ Cause we already had so much of it done. We were working on the top middle part. It was awful.” Obviously, they did a great job of saving their work.

Before I wrap up the story of the Guanajuato mural painted in Ashland, I want to introduce you to the Ashland mural painted in Guanajuato.

Sister cities since 1969!

As you can see from the photo below, Ashland and Guanajuato celebrated 50 years as sister cities in 2019. According to Ashland’s Amigo Club website, “The visionary behind the ties between the two cities is known in Guanajuato and Ashland as Señora Chela, a professor emerita of foreign languages and literature at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University).”

Ashland 4th of July parade
Ashland-Guanajuato 50th anniversary sister city sign in the 2019 Ashland 4th of July parade. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2019)

Señora Chela Tapp-Kocks initially inspired student exchanges between the two towns’ universities. These grew to include a wide variety of social, cultural and people to people exchanges. She also helped the Thaldens work with City of Guanajuato officials during the mural project there.

Señora Chela Tapp-Kocks
Señora Chal Tapp-Kocks inspired the Ashland-Guanajuato sister city relationship, and has continued to foster the relationship for the past five decades. (photo from the Amigo Club website)

Not just one mural in one city, but two murals in two cities

“Ashland residents, Barry and Kathryn Thalden, through their philanthropy envisioned and coordinated the idea of having two murals, one in each city, symbolizing not only the sister city relationship but the shared appreciation of the arts and culture fostering tourism and creating community pride.” The Ashland Chamber of Commerce described the powerful vision of the Thaldens in the above quote from their website. 

A larger vision

The Thaldens vision was even larger than a focus on sister cities and the arts. 

First, this mural honoring Ashland’s sister city Guanajuato was born and painted during an unprecedented attack on Mexicans by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.  During his June 16, 2015 presidential announcement speech, Trump had said, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” This was after he denigrated the Mexicans trying to seek asylum in the United States:  “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In contrast, think about the words Kathryn Thalden spoke when the Ashland mural was painted in Guanajuato. She was quoted in the Ashland Tidings article of January 2018: “This is a different kind of wall between the U.S. and Mexico. These are not walls that separate, but walls that bring people and countries together in peace, love, and respect.”

Second, Kathryn pointed out to me that the mural points to something bigger than Ashland. This is one of the many ways art can expand our awareness and our humanity. She told me, “One of the things I love about the Guanajuato mural – not only the color and the vibrancy and the interest that it brings to the space – but also it points to something bigger than Ashland. We tend to live in a bubble in Ashland. This mural points to something outside of ourselves that we’re connected with, a whole different culture and different language, different ways of being than we’re familiar with. I think it creates an awareness that there’s more than just us.”  

Art has a way of challenging us and helping us grow. This reminds me of a few lines from one of my poems.

Art uplifts my spirit
When I think I am too small.

Art challenges my self-image
When I think I am too big.

Peter Finkle

Mural in Ashland leads to mural in Guanajuato

Loreta’s mural in Ashland was completed on schedule and dedicated June 29, 2016. A little later in the article, I will share some powerful words Barry Thalden spoke at the dedication. First, I want to describe the genesis of a mural showing Ashland scenes that was painted in the City of Guanajuato. Barry told me, “After the dedication of the mural in Ashland on June 29th, several officials from Guanajuato came to Ashland, as they often do, for the 4th of July. Kathryn and I had a conversation with one of the city council members. He said, ‘We should do this in Guanajuato,’ and we agreed. We said, ‘How do we do that?’ and he said, ‘I’ll handle the politics on my end.'” 

That was an exciting offer. As with the mural in Ashland, there was a lot of groundwork to do. But “he really made it happen.” The Guanajuato city council approved the idea of a mural with an Ashland theme. They found a great location on a busy street named Paseo Ashland. In order to paint the mural at that location, a low wall was rebuilt higher and was then prepped for painting, all taken care of by the City of Guanajuato. 

Guanajuato
Paseo Ashland, busy street in Guanajuato, Mexico.(photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

Because of their fruitful relationship with Denise Baxter, it was an easy decision for the Thaldens to hire her as the painter. “We hired Denise Baxter to go down there because she had done the murals in Ashland for us, and because she speaks Spanish. We did the same thing as in Ashland, but in reverse. Loreta was Denise’s assistant to pull together a team of students from University of Guanajuato to help produce the painting.” Kathryn added that “Guanajuato was so gracious during the whole process.” 

Denise and Loreta 

When I interviewed Denise, she spoke in glowing terms of her relationship with Loreta, both in Ashland and Guanajuato. “Loreta still says that I’m her angel because I saved her from that stressful [grid] experience. Likewise, she saved me so many times in Mexico. She was so fantastic when I was there. She did so much for me.”

Preparing for the mural in Guanajuato

The mural in Ashland is large, at 24′ high and 53′ long on the side of a building on the south end of Calle Guanajuato. The sister mural in Guanajuato appears even more massive because it is so long and so visible on a busy city street. It is 12′ high, 75′ long, and filled with vibrant colors. Baxter designed the mural with input from the Thaldens. 

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Wall before painting of “Where Culture Meets Nature” mural in Guanajuato. Artist Denise Baxter and her daughter Aubrey are standing by the wall. The little girl happened to be walking by. (photo courtesy of Denise Baxter)

The mural is on one of the main streets entering Guanajuato. In order to paint it, they had to block off an entire lane of traffic on this main street. Because the regional Governor and the Mayor were both behind the project, they smoothed the way for all the details to be taken care of. The police were involved. The city even arranged for all-night security so that no one would touch the wall as it was being painted. 

The Department of Transportation provided support. In fact, two men from the Department of Transportation were there every single day just to help. If Baxter needed food or a coffee, they got it for her. If she needed scaffolding moved, they took care of that. If she was up on scaffolding and dropped a towel on the sidewalk, they would be right there to pick it up for her. 

“They spoke zero English but I just fell in love with those guys. They were the nicest people.,” she said.  

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
“Where Culture Meets Nature” mural in Guanajuato, showing scaffolding and lane closure. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

Loreta helped prepare the site for painting. She had already gone through the same process two years before when she painted the mural in Ashland, so she knew what Baxter needed. She had a portable truck ready. She helped Baxter purchase the exterior house paint and brushes for the job when Baxter arrived in Guanajuato, and within 24 hours of arrival they were at work on the wall.

Painting the mural in Guanajuato

Baxter and crew only had 21 days to paint the entire mural. Denise Baxter’s daughter Aubrey was there to assist with the painting. In addition, Loreta found about a dozen University of Guanajuato art students to help. One issue Baxter faced is that the students rotated through the mural painting, depending on their class schedules. She couldn’t remember which student had been taught which skills involved in getting the paint on just right, which was challenging at times. 

You have to delegate and trust

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Denise Baxter, in center with black shirt, with helpers in Guanajuato. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

Baxter told me, “You have to delegate and trust.” The fact was that Denise Baxter did not have time to paint the entire mural, or even do all the touch up painting on 75′ by 12′ of wall. The students had to paint most of the mural, so Baxter took on the role of teacher and mentor much of each day.

As she put it, “I was trusting and teaching. I was probably painting two hours a day and the other six hours I was teaching.” Baxter saw them as angels, the way they gave their all to the project. She tried to find the strengths of each student artist and then helped them to grow their skills through the mural project.

The language difference added extra challenge to Baxter’s ability to teach the students. Only two of them spoke English. Denise does speak some Spanish, but trying to teach art techniques with her Spanish knowledge was a real experience. “They would laugh at me all the time,” she said, “and make fun of my attempts to communicate art concepts.”

Denise Baxter’s frequent helpers

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
From left: the two Department of Transportation workers who helped Denise Baxter, two student assistant painters, Denise’s daughter Aubrey in green shirt, two student assistant painters. (photo courtesy of Denise Baxter)

This photo shows four of the most active student painters, plus Denise’s daughter Aubrey (wearing a green shirt) and the two Department of Transportation employees who brightened Denise’s days. The short, young woman being hugged by Aubrey was excellent at painting animals, such as the bumblebees. Other student painters were especially good at buildings, nature scenes and more.

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Detail from “Where Culture Meets Nature,” mural in Guanajuato: bee and flower. (photo courtesy of Denise Baxter)

“This mural is really about them, the people who helped me paint it. I was just a part of it. The people who worked with me are the real magic.”

Denise Baxter
"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Detail of “Where Culture Meets Nature,” mural in Guanajuato: owl over Emigrant Lake. (photo courtesy of Denise Baxter)

Finished mural in Guanajuato

The photo below shows the dramatic size and location of Ashland’s sister city mural in Guanajuato.

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Overview of “Where Culture Meets Nature,” mural in Guanajuato. (photo from Ashland Tidings article June 27, 2018)
"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
From left: unidentified by name, Denise Baxter, Kathryn Thalden, Barry Thalden, Guanajuato Queen, Ashland representatives to Guanajuato – at dedication of Ashland mural “Where Culture Meets Nature” in Guanajuato, 2018. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

The economic value of public art

Ashland is known as a cultural community, but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival overshadows other forms of art in our town – and rightfully so. I think it is time for other art forms, including the visual arts, to become more of a part of the economic engine of Ashland. 

Writing this series of articles about art in Ashland, I have become aware that there is much more art here than I knew. Most residents, and certainly most tourists, have no idea that there are many more than 100 artworks available to view within the Ashland city limits. That number doesn’t even include the many beautiful galleries that are filled with art. 

Speaking at the 2016 mural dedication in Ashland, Barry Thalden said something that really struck me as true. “When they uncovered the ruins in Pompeii, the things that were most prized were the murals and the mosaics. When we travel abroad, what do we look for? We take tours to see the art and architecture. That’s what’s significant. Art is important.” 

"Las Calles de Guanajuato" mural in Ashland
Dedication day for “Las Calles de Guanajuato” mural in Ashland. The artist Loreta is about to cut the ribbon. (photo still from Nisha Burton movie, “The Walls We Create.”)

Art is important to visitors. Art is also important to the community. It reflects who we are and adds beauty that brings a sense of pride.

When I spoke with Barry, he said that “The city is looking for ways to bring people to Ashland other than for OSF, including in the winter – and public art is still there in the winter. As an example, we’ve been told the Guanajuato mural is the number one ‘Kodak moment’ in Ashland because you can often see tourists taking pictures of their family in front of the mural. I don’t know if people come just for public art, but it is a reason that people enjoy coming.”

What motivates Barry and Kathryn Thalden to commission large artworks?

These two murals are not the Thalden’s only connection with art in Ashland. As mentioned above, they see the need to educate people about public art in Ashland. You probably don’t know that they created and printed the brochure, available at the Chamber of Commerce office, that lists 22 artworks in the City of Ashland collection. 

Hopefully you do know about the Thalden Pavilion on Walker Street, either from attending an event there or just driving by. It is a gathering place on the SOU campus and is part of the SOU Sustainability Center. The structure itself is a work of art. In addition, Native American wood carver Russell Beebe was commissioned to create two 24-foot tall teaching poles. Between the two poles, a World Peace Flame was lit in 2018, only the second one established in the United States. Betty LaDuke artworks were added to the pavilion in 2021.   

Thalden Pavilion, Ashland
This photo shows the 2018 Veterans Day gathering that was held at the Thalden Pavilion. Note the tall Anishinaabe teaching pole on the left, carved by Russell Beebe. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

I wondered where the Thaldens love of art came from. Of the two, Barry is the most passionate about art philanthropy. He explained to me that his mother was a famous artist in Chicago, where he grew up. He said, “She was painting at a time when only men were recognized in the world of art. She had to break through that glass ceiling to become quite famous in Chicago as an artist. As my sister said, my mother would take me out of school to drag me down to the Art Institute in Chicago to show me great art. So I started appreciating art at a very young age. I only veered slightly from that to become an architect. And Kathryn’s background as a landscape architect is part of who we are as a couple.” 

"Where Culture Meets Nature," mural in Guanajuato
Detail of “Where Culture Meets Nature,” mural in Guanajuato: OSF Elizabethan Theater, with Kathryn Thalden, Señora Chela Tapp-Kocks, Denise Baxter, Barry Thalden. (photo from Ashland Tidings article of June 27, 2018)

Location of the mural in Ashland

You can see “Las Calles de Guanajuato” mural when you are heading north on Winburn Way toward the Plaza. The sign in the photo below is at the corner where Calle Guanajuato meets Winburn Way, along Ashland Creek. Another way to spot the mural is to look for Skout Taphouse restaurant across the street from the large lawn at the entrance to Lithia Park. The mural covers the wall on the west side of the Skout Taphouse building.

Calle Guanajuato, Ashland
Calle Guanajuato street sign where it meets Winburn Way. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Giving credit

I’d like to give credit to the key people involved in bringing the mural “Las Calles de Guanajuato” to life.

Barry and Kathryn Thalden, envisioned the mural and supported it financially
Artist: Laura “Loreta” Rangel Villasenor, from Guanajuato
Coordinator: Denise Baxter, artist from Ashland
Artist assistant: Carlos Bracuto
Artist assistant: Victoria Johnson, SOU art student
Artist assistant: Adrian Chavez, student at North Medford High School
Artist assistant: Alexandra Garcia Eisenhardt, SOU art student
Artist assistant: Phil Huchings

I would also like to thank Nisha Burton for making the wonderful 13-minute movie called “The Walls We Create.” Here is a link to the watch the movie.

References:

Anon. “50 years of friendship – our sister city – Guanajuato, Mexico,” Ashland Chamber of Commerce. [accessed 11/30/2020]

Anon. “Sister city collaboration,” Medford Mail Tribune, June 29, 2016. (accessed February 2, 2021)

Anon. “Mural of Ashland to go up in Guanajuato,” Ashland Tidings, January 18, 2018. (accessed 3/13/2021)

Anon. “Mural of Ashland dedicated in Guanajuato,” Ashland Tidings, June 27, 2018. (accessed February 2, 2021)

Baxter, Denise. Interviews and personal communications, June 2020 and other dates.

Burton, Nisha. “The Walls We Create,” (13 minute movie), April 26, 2017, YouTube. (accessed December 2020)

Kessler, Glenn. “A history of Trump’s promises that Mexico would pay for the wall, which it refuses to do,” Washington Post, January 8, 2019. (accessed online 3/13/2021)

Thalden, Barry and Kathryn. Interviews and personal communications, January 2021 and other dates.

Turner, Mina. Personal communication, April 2021. Mina Turner is the current President of Ashland’s Amigo Club, which promotes our sister city relationship with Guanajuato.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills: Senior Project Public Art

How Ashland High senior project became public art!
Downtown on Enders Alley.
Artist: Nicole (Nick) Shulters.
Ashland Public Art series.

“A lot of people have their high school senior project, and it’s like, one and done. You don’t really think about it again. But this is something that will be on the wall for a very long time. It’s pretty cool to have left my mark, so to speak, on the place that raised me.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

What inspired this artwork?

As Nicole (called Nick) and her father Dan walked to the Bloomsbury Coffee Shop from his Dan’s Shoe Repair shop on Second Street back in 2011, they took the shortcut along Enders Alley. She was a senior at Ashland High School, struggling to come up with an idea for her senior project, a 100-hour-plus educational commitment. Her father looked at the “grungy looking wall” on the alley side of his shop and said, “Why don’t you do a painting on here for your senior project?” 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Nick was painting blocks of color on June 20, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

Why Nick said “Yes” to her father’s idea

Nick told me that she was motivated and inspired by Ashland High School art teacher Mark Schoenleber. As she put it, “I was really into art at the time, partly because Mr. Schoenleber created a really positive, uplifting environment that made you want to be around, even if you weren’t necessarily ‘artistic.'” So much so that she took nearly a dozen art classes from him during her high school years. She laughed as she explained that art was one of the few classes that students were allowed to repeat at Ashland High and she took advantage of that.

She loved creating art and decided it would make an interesting and enjoyable senior project. Little did she know what she was getting into.

A “nick of time” story about the shop

Dan’s Shoe Repair opened here in 2003, when Dan Shulters moved from Corvallis to Ashland. The shoe repair shop is now run by Jerry Carpenter under the name Ye Olde Cobbler Shoppe. Jerry co-owned a cobbler shop for many years in the Midwest, but had to leave the partnership. Not long after, on a below-freezing spring day, he complained to his sister about the 10-degree temperature and said he wanted to live somewhere warmer. Five minutes later, his sister called him back to say she looked online and found Dan’s Shoe Repair listed to be given for free in a small town in Oregon. Jerry told me he looked up the temperature in Ashland that day and it was 70 degrees! That convinced him to check it out. He flew out to Ashland, clicked with Alise and Dan, and bought the lease and equipment for $50.00 a couple days later (just three days before everything would have been taken to the dump!). It was a WIN-WIN, plus it kept Alise and Dan from losing their reputations and breaking their lease.  Jerry enjoys his new shoe repair business in Ashland. Selling the shop allowed Dan and Alise, who moved to Malawi in May 2018, to return on time. Dan’s story is described in brief at the end of this article.

The original brick building now has a less than perfect stucco exterior. When it was painted a few years ago, Dan decided to leave some of the exposed brick visible. To me, that choice adds to the charm of the exterior.  

Exposed brick at the former Dan’s Shoe Repair shop, now Ye Olde Cobbler Shoppe. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Nick’s learning experience with the Public Arts Commission (PAC)

“A lot of people don’t realize the process you have to go through to get something like this approved.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

As a high school senior ending her 12 years of compulsory schooling, Nick thought she had chosen a relatively easy senior project. She loved art. She knew how to paint. She had a good spot to paint a mural, not too small and not too large, about 230 square feet.

“What ended up being painted on the wall was very different than the original design that I presented to the Arts Commission,” Nick told me. She had been doodling and sketching San Francisco style skylines, probably because she dreamed of going to college there after growing up in the small town of Ashland. She also incorporated bright colors and abstract elements within the initial design ideas, similar to her illustration shown below.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
This illustration is similar to the early ones Nick created for Ashland Streetscape and Hills. (photo by Dan Shulters)

PAC meeting September 2011

Everything changed when she attended the Public Arts Commission (PAC) meeting on September 16, 2011. She began to learn how different public art is than art created for oneself or for a private client. After she presented her idea to the commission, PAC asked her to prepare all of the following information and come back to their October 2011 meeting. From the minutes:

  1. “Square footage and demarcation of the wall.
  2. Wall texture and condition and how you intend to prepare the wall for paint (wall prep, priming etc.).
  3. How you will physically execute the painting e.g. scaffolding, lift requirements, placement of orange cones, caution signage for vehicles and pedestrians etc. How much space will you need from the wall into the alley? The City will need to know this information to determine if the alley should be closed to vehicles, for safety reasons, during the time you are working.
  4. Paint specifications.
  5. Anti graffiti and UV coating.
  6. Explanation of your vision.
  7. Color sketch of your proposed vision.
  8. Timeframe (how long will this take from start to finish?).”
Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
This is how the wall looked in September 2011, before the wall was painted and when the multi-colored striped fabric was still up. (photo by Dan Shulters)

PAC meeting October 2011

It was no longer the “relatively easy senior project” she had envisioned. However, she was committed to doing it right, so she made her next presentation at PAC’s meeting of October 21, 2011. The commissioners liked everything she presented except the design. From the PAC minutes of that meeting: “Generally the commission feels the design of an urban landscape is not appropriate for Ashland….” They asked her mural to reflect an “Ashland, small town” look.  

One commissioner suggested she ask for guidance from a nationally known muralist named Robert Beckmann, who lived in Ashland at the time. It was Beckmann who painted the portrait of Shakespeare on the Bard’s Inn wall. In conclusion, the minutes state: “PAC has delayed approval of the mural until Nicole returns to the November meeting with a revised design.”

PAC meeting November 2011

Nick did have a short meeting with Robert Beckmann. She remembers him as being very kind. For the November 21, 2011 PAC meeting, Nick presented a new design that incorporated Beckmann’s suggestion to add the hills of Ashland behind the buildings. The PAC liked the design changes and approved them.

But her challenges were not over yet.

PAC and City Council meetings January/February 2012

There was still the matter of public comments to consider, which happened at the PAC meeting of January 20, 2012. Letters had been mailed to 53 properties within 300 feet of the mural site. Comments were received both for and against the mural. Here is a comment I found a bit humorous, from the PAC minutes: “The other negative comment was from a neighbor in a private home who did not want to look out her window and see the mural.  Per photos provided by Mr. Shulters [Nick’s father], it does not appear the mural is visible from her home.”

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Nick is shown speaking to the Public Arts Commission on January 20, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

Finally, Nick’s mural was approved by the PAC on January 20, then by the City Council on February 21 – the culmination of a months-long senior project learning process that was past 100 hours of work before painting even began.

Lessons Learned

During our interview, I acknowledged the challenge of the public art process and expressed the hope that “you will be able to apply all those lessons you learned.” She replied, “So far, the experience has done me well. I had that naiveté that it’s going to be ‘one and two and done,’ which is not the case. That’s a lesson that was happily learned earlier on in my life rather than later.”  

Finally, the painting

Painting happened in June 2012, the week after she graduated from high school. 

The first day required thoroughly cleaning the wall, then applying a coat of off-white primer to the wall. The second day, she outlined the buildings and mountains with black spray paint. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
The mural on June 19, 2012 as Nick was spray-painting outlines of the buildings and hills. (photo by Dan Shulters)

As with other murals, the next step was painting blocks of color for the buildings, hills and sky. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
The mural on June 20, 2012 with the color blocks painted. (photo by Dan Shulters)

During the fourth day, she added detail, shading and touchup to each section. The final step was a clear sealant over the entire mural. 

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Artist Nicole (Nick) Shulters stands in front of her completed mural – Ashland Streetscape and Hills – on June 26, 2012. (photo by Dan Shulters)

For the wall, she used exterior grade house paint. She laughed as she told me that her initial small mockups had been done with shoe polish spray paint from her father’s shop!

“It was definitely a fun experience, something I’m glad I did.” 

Nicole (Nick) Shulters

The artist shared two “secrets” with me

A favorite highlight, when I am able to interview a living artist, is learning something brand new about the artwork. Something in plain sight that I just didn’t see. Here are two “secrets” I learned from Nick.

I got my first surprise when she said, “If you’re facing down Second Street [north] looking at the hills from the mural location, it’s supposed to match up with the hills on the painting.” Here are two photos, with a sliding bar between them, so you can decide for yourself if she succeeded.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public artAshland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Slide the line so you can see how the hills across the valley from Ashland, as seen from the mural site on Second Street, look very similar in the two photos. (photos by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The second “secret” involved the three dimensional nature of the artwork. Her father suggested that she incorporate the fan unit that sticks out from the concrete wall into her mural design. The strong fan vents fumes out of the shop. The cobbler shop requires good ventilation for the repair work done there, so the fan unit was essential to keep intact.  She made the fan unit into one of the buildings.

Ashland Streetscape and Hills, public art
Detail of Ashland Streetscape and Hills, showing the fan unit that gives the mural a three dimensional touch. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Nick’s childhood art influences

Nick said, “I think the main thing that inspired me was that my mom used to do a lot of water colors. There is one painting my mom still has of dolphins swimming in the ocean. I remember always looking at it and wanting to be able to articulate on paper something that people can easily understand.”  

Dolphin water color
Dolphin water color by Nick’s mother Susan Rugh, March 2000. (photo courtesy of Susan Rugh)

Her parents told her that she traced cereal boxes as a young kid. She graduated to sketch books, where she drew scenery and what was around her to pass the time. She didn’t grow up spending hours on her phone with Instagram and TikTok. She feels fortunate that her parents encouraged her to find creative ways to stay busy, including drawing, painting and learning mechanic skills.

Why Nick’s father left Ashland for Malawi, Africa

I am a sucker for stories of people “finding their purpose.” Dan first visited Malawi in 2015. From the beginning, it felt like home to him. He said in a 2018 Locals Guide interview, “Suddenly all of my skills that I have been learning all of my life had a purpose.”

Here is a brief description of Dan and Alise (his second wife) Shulters’ humanitarian work in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa – and the world. Building on his knowledge of shoe repair, Dan is helping people in the villages near his home there to set up micro-enterprises. During 2020, around 40 Malawian entrepreneurs began to operate their own tiny shoe retail businesses. In a recent Locals Guide interview, Dan and Alise said that “the shoe sales saved several families in their homes with food to eat when their jobs disappeared [due to COVID restrictions].” You can learn more about their work in Malawi at the non-profit group’s website

References:

Schoenleber, Mark. Interview, March 2021.

Shulters, Dan (interviewed by Shields Bialasik), “Dan Shulters is moving to Malawi. Where is that?,” Locals Guide, August 28, 2018.

Shulters, Dan and Alise (interviewed by Shields Bialasik), “Steps4Malawi, end of year update,” Locals Guide, January 1, 2021.

Shulters, Nicole (Nick). Interview and other communications, April 27, 2021 and other dates.

A WalkAshland VIDEO! (Painted Utility Boxes video tour)

Peter leads a Railroad District art + history walk.
Video by Sailor Boy Media.
Here’s how it happened. Ashland Public Art video.

If you want to go straight to the video, click the image below. If you want to read my story about how the video came to be, keep reading.

In the video, you will meet artist Ann DiSalvo

Ann painted two of the utility boxes we will see on our video tour, including this one showing the swans that used to live in the Lower Duck Pond at Lithia Park.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street as it was being painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)

In the video, you will learn Ashland history highlights

Here is one of the spots we visited during the video walking tour.

My photo essay led to this video

On February 3, 2021, I published an article about painted utility boxes in the Railroad District. I learned that in 2009 Ashland’s Public Arts Commission had initiated this project to brighten the town by commissioning artists to paint some of the drab, dark green utility boxes. It was a good story. I did research and found “before and after” photos of all seven utility boxes that were painted in July 2009. I walked the streets and took my own photos, then published the story as a photo essay. CLICK HERE to see that photo essay.

Keegan Van Hook said, “Are you interested…?”
I said, “Yes!”

Videographer Keegan Van Hook read my article and was intrigued by the possibility of turning my photo-essay walk into a video walk. After asking him a few questions and seeing some of his work, I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

A graduate of the Southern Oregon University Digital Media program, Keegan founded Sailor Boy Media with his friend Tripp White. They have an active website and YouTube channel that specializes in video interviews with local people on issues of the day. CLICK HERE to visit their website.

Filming the video

I met Keegan and Tripp at 11:00 am on February 24 to film the video. Keegan asked me questions and Tripp did camera work. I had notes with me, but I spoke extemporaneously at each utility box and at our historical sites. We walked and talked for two hours, including having the bonus interview with artist Ann DiSalvo.

After the filming, I sent Keegan several historic photographs that enrich the video’s Ashland history sections. Tripp and Keegan edited the two hours into an enjoyable, educational and interesting 24 minute video. Here, again, is a link to the video on YouTube. Thanks for watching, and I hope you enjoy it.

References:

Sailor Boy Media website

Teen art brightens Orchid Street & Rose Lane

See three flowery fence murals.
Meet two high school student-artists.
Photo essay with 24 photos.
Ashland Neighborhood Art series.

Orchid Street is lined with mature trees that provide summer shade. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Orchid Street and Rose Lane are two short streets in the Fordyce neighborhood. After I saw the beautiful murals on Fordyce Street, I decided to walk more of the neighborhood.

Why I got excited

I walked Orchid Street and Rose Lane twice – once in September 2020 by myself and again in April 2021 with my wife Kathy. Where Rose Lane ends at Orchid Street, I spotted bright, beautiful colors during my September walk – another mural on a fence! I was excited. I took photographs and made a mental note to try to meet the mural artist sometime. That time finally came in March 2021, when I learned this mural was a collaboration of two young artists.

Bright yellow daffodils in front of yellow sunflowers, spring 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Genesis of the sunflower fence mural

When I met the artists Reed Pryor and Ainsley Gibbs, I learned that both are high school seniors this year (2021). Reed is at Ashland High and Ainsley at St. Mary’s High. Both love art. Reed’s parents asked them in July 2020 to add some color to the yard by painting this fence. Reed explained, “My parents lived in France for a couple of years. They were really into the sunflower fields. My dad is a big fan of the Tour de France, which shows great drone shots of riders going through these massive fields of sunflowers. It’s just so beautiful. I think that was the inspiration.” 

Reed asked his girl-friend Ainsley, a serious student of art, to help him with the project. 

Ainsley Gibbs (left) and Reed Pryor pose with their sunflower mural on Orchid Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The sunflower mural process

Step 1: The wood on this fence was weathered, cracked, and soaked up paint. That made it challenging to end up with bright colors. They decided to begin with a thick coat of primer on the fence, which prepared the wood for the sunflower colors to follow. The primer made a big difference to the quality of the finished art.

Step 2: They sketched their sunflower design on the fence.

Step 3: They added blocks of green color for the leaves. For the flower petals, they began with blocks of white. By doing that, they hoped the next coat of bright yellow would stand out more. 

In-process photo of the sunflower mural. (photo by Reed Pryor, 2020)

Step 4: Ainsley described the detail work as the fun part. For the final stage, they blended colors and focused on the beauty of each flower. 

Orchid Street
This is how the sunflower mural looked soon after it was painted in July 2020. (photo by Reed Pryor, 2020)

Sunflowers in front of sunflowers

I asked how long ago they painted the fence. Reed replied, “We did it in July of 2020. Actually, in the summer we have sunflowers growing right here.” As he pointed close to where we were standing, he continued, “Last summer the sunflowers grew really tall and blocked the view of the mural from the sidewalk. It was funny, because when summer went and we took them out, then people started noticing the sunflowers behind on the fence.”

Sunflowers growing in the yard in front of painted sunflowers, summer 2020. (photo by Reed Pryor, 2020)

Having sunflowers growing in the front yard was an advantage during the final stage of painting. As they painted the detail of each flower petal, the two walked over to the real sunflowers a few feet away to study color patterns and gradients! 

Lifelong love of art

Ainsley explained that her love for art has been heavily influenced by her schooling. She said, “I went to Siskiyou School, which is a Waldorf school, from 1st grade through 8th grade. Classes are focused around art. We did a lot of drawing, painting and calligraphy. That’s when I started developing my skills because I practiced every day. For example, in Biology we would be learning about cellular respiration and we would make a very realistic drawing of the process. During these years, art became a part of my life. When I went to high school, I took some art classes and I continued to paint, mostly watercolor portraits. As I get ready to go to college, I think art in some form is in my future.”

I asked Ainsley to send me several samples of her recent artwork. The watercolor below particularly moved me, both for the emotions it captures and for the thoughtfulness of the concept.

Artist description of the painting: “This portrait is my sister Bria and her friend Samara. It’s from my AP Art portfolio, in which I have explored the theme of human interaction in a world with COVID-19. The subjects are in their own happy world amidst the glaring headlines and drama of the newspapers.” (photo of her watercolor painting, by Ainsley Gibbs, 2021)

Reed was humble about his skills, but he has also loved to make art for most of his life. As he went through the public schools, art received very little focus. His main artform is sketching with pencil. He would like to become an architect, a career that would combine his interests in art, science and engineering.

Neighborhood pocket park

There’s a small, practical, privately owned neighborhood pocket park at the intersection of Orchid Street and Rose Lane. It looks like a great spot for neighbors to gather for a picnic or to catch some summer rays.

This privately owned pocket park at the intersection of Orchid Street and Rose Lane is a place for neighbors to meet. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Orchid Street sights that brought me smiles

I don’t have other special stories to tell about Orchid Street. But as I walked the block in September and again in March, I saw small sights that brought a smile to my face. Here are some of them.

This small front yard owl struck my fancy. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Whimsical, colorful yard art brightens Orchid Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Quiz: Is this a snake, an artwork or a tree root? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
According to homeowner Karen, this turtle family came all the way from Florida to find a happy home in Ashland. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
They are slow, so they’ll probably be in just about the same place when you come by for your neighborhood walk. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Rose Lane murals

The most colorful sights on Rose Lane are also due to Ainsley and Reed. Nearby neighbor Curly liked their sunflower mural so much that she asked them to paint a gate mural in her yard. She trusted them to choose a beautiful design.

Truth is stranger than fiction

Ainsley laughed as she told my wife and me how she and Reed chose the design. Looking through Pinterest flower images, she found a colorful poppy picture that she scanned and saved. She asked Reed to bring one or two poppy images that he really liked. What happened? He brought her the same image she had chosen for the design! Come on…is this a sappy movie or is this real life? I guess the saying “truth is stranger than fiction” applies here.

Based on that internet image, they drew a colored pencil sketch. Here’s a look at their sketch for the first gate design.

Ainsley Gibbs and Reed Pryor based their first Rose Lane mural design on this sketch. (photo by Peter Finkle, from illustration by Ainsley and Reed, 2021)

When they showed the homeowner Curly their design for the gate, she heartily approved it. Then she told them, “I don’t have just one gate. I have two you can paint.” They decided to keep the same theme of poppy flowers for the second gate, but with a slightly different look.

This is how the first gate mural looked just weeks after it was painted. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Detail photo of the first Rose Lane poppies mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The wood was much less weathered here than on their sunflower mural, so the whole process went more smoothly. They didn’t have to use nearly as much primer for the base coat. They outlined their poppy designs in chalk and painted a layer of white where the bright green, red and yellow paints would follow. This helped the bright colors to pop more on the rough wood.

The gate on the other side of Curly’s house provided a slightly larger area to paint. I love the extra artistic touch of a white picket fence and a white arbor entry, which emphasize the deep reds and greens of the flower mural.

Welcoming arbor entry to the second Rose Lane poppies mural. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

What the neighbors say

My wife and I were able to speak briefly with Curly when the artists showed us the murals at her house. She loves the way the paintings turned out. She’s not the only one. Neighbors have been telling Curly that they feel uplifted just seeing the colorful flowers as they walk by. Ainsley and Reed are leaving a positive legacy behind as they get ready to depart for college in the fall.

Other Rose Lane sights

Rose Lane is only one block, but my wife and I found some details to stop, appreciate, and photograph.

This yard will be full of colorful flowers through springtime. The iris, lavender and others accent a curving, rock-edged path to create sweet harmony.

Rose Lane, Ashland
Deep purple iris and flowering cherries brighten this scene on Rose Lane. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Is this a miniature Christmas tree? The ornament is still on it. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Rose Lane, Ashland
My “heart” spotted this clever pruning of a lush vine on Rose Lane. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
This may be the most lush blooming manzanita bush I have ever seen. It is spectacular. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Columnar English Oak

Found at the intersection of Rose Lane and Orchid Street, this is the largest Columnar English Oak in Ashland, according to arborist Casey Roland.

This is the largest Columnar English Oak in Ashland, according to arborist Casey Roland. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Columnar English Oak. You can see the shape of the tree in a different way when it’s not covered with leaves. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

I was fascinated with the “design” of the tree. In my photo below, I tried to capture a sense of the vibrancy of all those upright branches bursting out of the lower trunk.

Detail photo of Columnar English Oak shows the unusual way its lower branches head skyward from the trunk. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

I hope you have enjoyed exploring more of the Fordyce neighborhood with me. As we continue to walk, I can’t guarantee you more murals on the local fences, but I’m sure we will find more creativity and beauty.

If you enjoy art, please read my photo essay about the large, colorful murals on Fordyce Street

If you haven’t yet read my article about the six large, colorful murals on Fordyce Street, here is a link to see it. 
https://walkashland.com/2021/02/28/fordyce-street-from-sawmills-to-art/

Also in the neighborhood

In the autumn of 2020, I walked nearby Old Willow Lane, a short street filled with interesting yard art. You can read the Old Willow Lane photo essay at this link. https://walkashland.com/2020/10/17/old-willow-lane-photo-essay/

References:

Gibbs, Ainsley and Pryor, Reed. Interviews during March and April, 2021.

“We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 3 of 3: Wood carving at SOU Hannon Library, 
stories from 2012 to 2020)

38 photos!
How the 20′ tall sculpture was moved.
Every carving on sculpture described.
Quotes from Grandma Aggie.
Ashland Public Art Series.

Summary of “We Are Here” – Parts 1 and 2

“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley. In addition to a sculpture, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. The bronze replica is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet, a very visible location just one block from the Plaza. 

This article (Part 3 of 3) is about the original wood carved prayer pole, which was moved from North Main street to Southern Oregon University Hannon Library in December of 2012. This map shows the location of Hannon Library.

"We Are Here" Ashland
Map showing location of “We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. (map from Google)

“I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones.”

Grandma Aggie

Local attorney and arts patron Matthew Haines funded the wood carving after he felt a calling to have it made. Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, was the sculptor (wood carver). 

Russell Beebe (standing) with Matthew Haines (right) and Grandma Aggie at the “We Are Here” dedication in 2006. (photo from the Russell Beebe collection)

Grandma Aggie performed ceremonies for the tree and then the Prayer Pole, including at the original September 30, 2006 dedication. Within a few years, Beebe and Haines realized that the soft alder wood of the sculpture would deteriorate irreparably if it continued to be exposed to the elements for many years. There was only one way to save “We Are Here” — to move it indoors. But that meant losing this visible, public location for an artwork that honors Native people of the Rogue Valley.

Bronze sculpture artist Jack Langford was hired to make a bronze replica of the wood prayer pole. Because of the size and complexity of “We Are Here,” it took 55 small flexible molds to capture every detail of the wood. Each of the 55 flexible molds was transformed in a multistage process into heat-resistant fused silica molds. These were filled with molten bronze at 2,000 degrees F, after which the 55 bronze pieces had to be fit together seamlessly. The entire process took Langford nearly a year. The bronze replica was installed on North Main Street in May 2013.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” bronze replica on North Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2013)

“We Are Here” alder carving moved, December 18, 2012

On December 18, 2012, “We Are Here” was moved from North Main Street to the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Ashley Powell, co-chair of the SOU Native American Student Union, smudges before it is lifted from its site on North Main Street. (photo by James Royce Young)

Matthew Haines had asked Grandma Aggie’s permission for a bronze replica of “We Are Here” to replace the wood sculpture outdoors at the “Ashland Gateway” location. She said yes and suggested that the original wood statue be moved to the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University. The City and University agreed, and the move took place on December 18, 2012. 

As a photo description of that snowy morning put it: “A fresh snowfall caused the lifting crane to be one hour late. The schedule, planned to the minute, became completely irrelevant and we were on Indian time the rest of the day. It was a beautiful morning.” 

This photo shows “We Are Here” being lifted from its site on North Main Street. (photo by James Royce Young)

The crane lowered it onto a huge steel-railed rolling dolly, where it was tightly chained on a flatbed truck for transport to SOU Hannon Library. I spoke with Dan Wahpepah, who coordinated the move. He said that “We Are Here” was strapped in the U-shaped dolly with come-alongs on both sides, so they had flexibility to maneuver the large statue through the library doors and then on to the new base installed in the library. Come-alongs are winches that incorporate ratchets for better control. Once in the library, it was bolted to a hinge on the concrete base and then lifted. Lifting it upright from the dolly took careful planning, clear guidance, chains, strong ropes, three wooden poles and many strong hands. 

“We Are Here” being moved into the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows the invocation before the final lift into position at Hannon Library. (photo by James Royce Young)
“We Are Here” being moved into the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows one of the two pulling teams on the second floor. (photo by James Royce Young)

Wahpepah told me the move followed Native American traditions. With an important move, it is traditional to stop four times to honor the four directions. Assisting Wahpepah were community members and students of the SOU Native American Student Union. 

A new base for “We Are Here” at library

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows the 5,000 pound concrete base being moved into position. (photo by James Royce Young)

A new base was created for the library location of the “We Are Here” wood prayer pole, beginning with a 5,000 pound foundation of concrete. After “We Are Here” was in place on this concrete, Jesse Biesanz began the process of adding a round dome of mortar and river rocks to complete the prayer pole base. He had a short window of time in January to complete the project, when students were on break.

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows Jesse Biesanz creating the base mound of river rocks. (photo by James Royce Young)

He experimented with different colored mortar mixes to find a warm color that would complement the color of the wood. At the bottom, he began with rectangular stone. Then he inserted river rocks of various colors and sizes. Finally, he embedded four animals carved in sandstone at the four cardinal directions of the base.

"We Are Here" Ashland
Looking down on the base of “We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Russell Beebe’s three carved benches, as well as two of the animals he carved from the creation story, can be seen in this photo of the base. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

A creation story on the base

The carvings on the base depict four animals from the Anishinaabe creation story. Russell Beebe, who carved the wood prayer pole, also carved the four animals in sandstone. Beebe is of Anishinaabe tribal heritage. You can read his description of the creation story on the wall of the library near “We Are Here.”

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows Russell Beebe carving the HellDiver from the Anishinaabe creation story. (photo by James Royce Young)

Carved wood benches for “We Are Here” at library

Russell Beebe
Russell Beebe with tree trunk section that will be used to carve one of the benches for SOU Hannon Library. (photo from Russell Beebe collection)

Beebe carved the three beautiful benches by the statue in Hannon Library from the trunk of one large pine tree. One is Bear, one is Cougar (or Mountain Lion) and one is Salmon.

Grandma Aggie wrote in her book: “Russell carved eight-foot benches for people to go and meditate or to have any type of classes there; they would have room. … So he has carved these big eight-foot benches around the spirit pole, and I thought that way people could come and pray, or you could have some sort of a program here about the tree where people could come and sit quietly or whatever.”

Symbolism in “We Are Here”

Here is a brief introduction to the animals and people carved in the “We Are Here” statue. For thousands of years, Southern Oregon tribes lived a sustainable lifestyle in balance with the land, animals and plants of the region. Because it was a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the local population remained small and spread out. Each tribal group had slightly different beliefs and ceremonies. However, all felt a kinship with the animals and plants they depended on for their survival. Russell Beebe brought that sense of kinship into his carving of “We Are Here.”

Grandma Aggie expressed the concept of kinship in her book. She wrote, “The First Nations include not only the Takelma, Shasta, Tututni and other tribes, but also the Salmon Nation, the Bear Nation, the Tree Nations, and all the species of life in this region.” She had a true “big picture” perspective embracing all of life. 

Ashland’s North Mountain Park online pamphlet about local Native American history gives an insight into the importance of animals in their daily life. “Animal parts, including hides, fur, claws, hooves, teeth, bones and antlers were critical in the manufacture of needles, awls, wedges, fishhooks, digging stick handles, scrapers, bow strings, arrows quivers and ceremonial decorations, among other items.” This list doesn’t even mention that animals provided food, clothing and shelter for the people.

Here is a brief description and photo of each human and animal carved on the prayer pole. 

Beebe told me that he only had room to represent two of the local tribes, and he chose the Takelma and the Shasta. The Takelma woman and Shasta man each have a child, who represent the future.  

Takelma Woman and child
Grandma Aggie in front of “We Are Here” on dedication day, September 30, 2006. The Takelma woman on “We Are Here” is modeled on Aggie when she was in her 30s. (photo by James Royce Young)

Russell Beebe used Grandma Aggie as a model for the Takelma woman. He carved her as she looked in her 30s, wearing her regalia clothing. Beebe told me with a laugh, “I got the blessing from her daughter Nadine. She came out one day and looked at my depiction of the 30-year-old [Aggie]. She said, ‘That’s mom.’ So I got it right.”

The Takelma people lived primarily along the Rogue River and to the south as far as what is now the Ashland area. They were a small tribe in the 1850s when settlers arrived in the Rogue Valley. However, they and other ancestral tribes had lived in the area for at least 10,000 years before they were forcibly removed in 1856 to the Siletz Reservation in northwest Oregon. 

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” detail of the Takelma child. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2006)

Grandma Aggie and many other Native Americans have moved back to Southern Oregon. This sweet photo taken at the original dedication of “We Are Here” in 2006 shows four generations of Grandma Aggie’s family.

Four generations! From left, Chantele Liratos, Aggie’s great-granddaughter; Grandma Aggie; Nadine Martin, Aggie’s daughter; Tanya Narvrez, Aggie’s granddaughter; bottom right is Felicia Florindo, friend of the family. Taken September 30, 2006. (photo by James Royce Young)
Shasta Man and child
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of the Shasta man and child. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The Shasta people lived primarily in Northern California, though in their northern territory they shared the Bear Creek drainage (now the Ashland/Medford area) with Takelma bands. American settlers James Cardwell and Thomas Smith visited the Ashland area in the winter of 1851-1852. They described a Shasta winter village of perhaps 100 people along Ashland Creek, near the current location of Ashland Plaza.  

With spring and summer warm weather, both Shasta and Takelma would spread out in smaller bands at higher elevations to hunt meat and gather wild foods. The two tribes fought at times, but also intermarried, traded and shared hunting grounds.

Canada Goose
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows the Canada goose. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Canada geese are easy to see – and hear – in the Rogue Valley at certain times of the year. Geese and ducks were among the animal foods hunted and eaten by Rogue Valley Native Americans. 

Stag (Deer)
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows the stag with its antlers, the little bird and the Takelma woman. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Deer provided food, clothing and tools. Shirts, hats, buckskin trousers, skirts and moccasins were all made from deer or elk. 

According to Karen Rose in her 2002 essay, “The Takelma would light fires in the shape of a horseshoe to drive deer toward the bottom of the semi-circle where the women stood rattling deer bones and the men waited to shoot them. They also would use this method to drive the deer into elaborately constructed brush fences where they could be taken in snares. The Takelma also regularly burned their hunting area to produce better grass with which to attract wild game and maintain their habitat by reducing the underbrush.” 

Edward Sapir gave another version of the Takelma deer hunt, writing that deer were often hunted by groups of men with the help of dogs. They would be driven towards a fenced area with traps to entangle the deer’s legs, so they could be killed. For long-term food storage, “hard dough-like cakes of the [deer] fat were put away for use in the winter.”

Bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand

The bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand represents her connection with nature and the web of life.

Eagle
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of the eagle. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

In her book, Grandma Aggie described the eagle. “Same way with the eagle. It’s a messenger. Long before Congress made it the national bird for us, our Native people throughout the land had already had the eagle that way because he could fly the highest and see the farthest and carry our messages to the Beloved. It was already one of our totems.”

“You know it’s unusual, but you know that the Creator let me know that we’re in the right place, doing the right thing. Like when they dedicated this mountain up here after me. Five eagles up there. Bless you, Grandfather. Whoa! That’s great.” Read more about the mountain dedication below in the section about Dragonfly.

Russell Beebe was given the honor of placing an Eagle feather high on “We Are Here” at the 2006 dedication. If you go see “We Are Here” in the SOU library, you will see an Eagle feather hanging from the Shasta man’s headband and several Red-Tailed Hawk feathers hanging from Grandma Aggie’s hand.

Dragonfly 

“Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.”

Grandma Aggie
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of dragonfly. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Sculptor Russell Beebe told me why there is a dragonfly on the prayer pole. “The dragonfly was put there just for Aggie, because the dragonfly is one of her spirit animals.” Grandma Aggie wrote in her book that “dragonflies have been a phenomenal thing in my life.” “Like when they named the mountain over here at Ashland Taowhywee Peak, there was dragonflies all over my head, and five eagles. Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.” 

Taowhywee Point, elevation 3,707 feet, is located four miles to the northeast of Ashland. The peak was formally named for Pilgrim’s great-grandmother. In her book, Grandma Aggie explains who she was. “As I said, my Native name, Taowhywee, was given to me a long time ago through my great-grandmother Margaret, whose name was Morning Star. She was a great shaman of the Takelma people here in Southern Oregon.” 

Salmon

“In 2007, the [salmon] ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon.”

National Park Service website
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of salmon. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The most important animal foods for Rogue Valley Native Americans were river fish such as salmon and trout. They were caught using nets, fishing lines made of plant fiber or long spears. Traditionally, ceremonies were conducted each year at the beginning of the salmon hunt.

We turn to Grandma Aggie once again. She was the driving force behind restoration of an ancient salmon ceremony. The National Park Service (NPS) website says in an article about the Takelma tribe: “In the 1970’s, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians began to reorganize. The confederation arose out of the tribes that had been relocated to the Siletz reservation as one, larger, intertribal group. Their first elected chief was George Harney, a full-blooded Takelma. George Harney’s granddaughter, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, continues to educate others about her heritage.”

Grandma Aggie
Grandma Aggie sitting in the Story Chair by Ti’lomikh Falls on the Rogue River, near the village site of her Takelma ancestors, 2012. (photo by Stephen Kiesling)

“In 1994, for the first time in over 140 years, an ancient ceremony took place to welcome and give thanks for the returning salmon, on the Kanaka Flats of the Applegate River. People of all heritages were welcomed at the annual Salmon Gathering on the Applegate River until 2006. In 2007, the ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon. Since then, the ceremony has taken place annually in its traditional location, demonstrating that the Takelma culture is alive and will continue into the future.”  

Bear
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of bear. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Bear provided food and clothing. Men’s fur hats were made of bear or deer heads, with the ears reportedly left on for decoration. Fur was used for clothing and wintertime blankets.

The bear is also a totem animal. Aggie again: “Like when I am really tired and how that bear medicine comes through. I think, god, I just can’t stay up another minute, but I do. So I attribute it to – it comes from the bear power.”

Coyote
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of coyote. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The native-languages.org website describes Coyote as “the trickster figure of the Takelma tribe. As in other Northwestern mythology, Takelma coyote stories range from light-hearted tales of mischief and buffoonery to more serious legends about the nature of the world.” 

Beaver

“Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers….”

Aaron Hall
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of beaver. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Beavers were once abundant in Oregon. Due to demand for beaver pelts in Europe and the Eastern United States, they were nearly trapped to extinction in the 1800s. They have now become reestablished along streams throughout the state. 

Beavers are such an important part of a healthy stream ecosystem that Native Americans would have held them in high regard. According to aquatic biologist Aaron Hall, “Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers, felling trees and building dams, and changing waterways for their own benefit. But they also benefit other species in the process, including humans as well as many species that are now in jeopardy at least in part due to the historic loss of beavers. Their dams help to control the quantity and quality of water downstream, which both humans and animals use. Their ponds and flooded areas create habitat for many plants and animals, such as fish, birds, insects, and amphibians. In fact, some species only live near beaver ponds.” 

Snake

When Beebe removed the bark, he was amazed to see a small companion alder tree winding its way up the old alder, almost like a vine. The snake was carved from this vine-like companion alder.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of snake. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Dennis Gray wrote: “A number of animals were specifically not eaten by the Upland Takelma, such as porcupines, weasels, civet cats (either a spotted skunk or “ring-tailed” cat), screech owls, coyotes, wolves, eagles, snakes, and frogs. It was also stated that certain people would not eat bear meat (Drucker 1940:294). Most of the above mentioned animals, which were not eaten, were associated with supernatural spirits.” According to some sources, the rattlesnake was considered a guardian spirit, but possibly one that inclined people toward evil.

Cougar or Mountain lion
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of cougar (mountain lion). (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Like the beaver, mountain lions are an important part of the natural ecosystem. They were essential to keep the population of smaller animals in balance. 

According to anthropological reports, they were also a minor part of the Shasta tribe diet. I imagine that most other animals were much easier to hunt and kill! 

Raven spirit figure
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of Takelma child and Spirit Raven. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Raven stories are found in many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, primarily along the coast. In many of the stories, Raven is involved in creation or in bringing light to the people. 

"We Are Here" - Russell Beebe signature
Russell Beebe’s signature on “We Are Here” wood carving prayer pole. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Closing words

I will let Grandma Aggie have the closing words, from her book Grandma Says: Wake Up World!. She wrote: “I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones. That’s why I wanted it – for them to be recognized in my background. It was a good feeling. The artist’s name and my name are there to this day. So there it stands, the carving in bronze. I feel very honored that, when I go to the Star Nation, that there will be that spirit pole because, as I say, Ashland is a threshold and there is nothing Native out there. Now we have the bronze that will show there were residents of First Nation people there. I feel very good to have it standing there.” 

Grandma Aggie has now gone to the Star Nation. She will be missed. She will also be remembered whenever someone views the bronze “We Are Here” on North Main Street or the original alder wood “We Are Here” in the SOU library.

Heartfelt thanks

My heartfelt thanks go out to:

Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim): Inspiration for “We Are Here.” (1924 – 2019) 

Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim), In Memoriam
In Memoriam sign for Grandma Aggie at the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Grandma Aggie
Grandma Aggie’s hands, during Dedication Day, September 30, 2006 (still photo taken from Julie Norman’s video of the event)


Russell Beebe: Wood carver of the original alder tree “We Are Here” prayer pole.
Jack Langford: Artist of the “We Are Here” bronze replica.
Lloyd Matthew Haines: He felt the calling for “We Are Here” to be created, then funded both the original wood carving and the bronze replica.
The First Nations Old Ones who lived in this area for thousands of years.
Everyone who helped make “We Are Here” possible in both of its forms. 
Those who generously talked with me, shared their photos with me, or reviewed the article for me. They are listed in “References” below.

Part 1 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the creation of the original wood carving prayer pole, and its dedication on September 30, 2006.

LINK TO PART 1 ABOUT “WE ARE HERE”

Part 2 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the bronze replica that was crafted and now stands on North Main Street.

LINK TO PART 2 ABOUT “WE ARE HERE”

References for Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Aldous, Vickie. “Downtown sculpture to be cast in bronze,” Ashland Tidings, April 18, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Aldous, Vickie. “Native people sculpture will move to SOU,” Ashland Tidings, November 3, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Anon. “Native Americans of the Rogue Valley,” North Mountain Park Nature Center, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, Version 4: May 2010.
http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Native%20American%20Background%20Booklet.pdf

Anon. “We Are Here,” Book Marks, Hannon Library Newsletter, Volume 24, No. 1, Fall 2013.

Anon. “Takelma Tribe,” NPS.gov.(accessed January 10, 2021)  https://www.nps.gov/orca/learn/historyculture/takelma-tribe.htm

Anon. “Takelma Legends,” native-languages.org website. (accessed January 17, 2021)
http://www.native-languages.org/takelma-legends.htm

Ayers, Jane. “‘Grandma Aggie’ leaves a lasting impact,” Ashland Tidings, December 3, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Beebe, Russell. Interview and personal communication, June 2, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Russell, for sharing your photos with me.

Beebe, Russell. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
http://www.russellbeebe.com/index.html#

Bernhagen, Jaimie. “‘We Are Here’ Event with Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Red Earth Descendants website, October 14, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Biesanz, Jesse. Interview and personal communication, August 2020.

Cardwell, James, “Southern Oregon Pioneers,” Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 8, 1882, page 3, from http://truwe.sohs.org/files/cardwell.html

Darling, John. “‘Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95,” Ashland Tidings, November 27, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Doty, Thomas. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
https://www.dotycoyote.com/culture/sculpture_installation_1.html

Gray, Dennis J. “The Takelma and Their Athapascan Neighbors,” University of Oregon Anthropological Papers, No. 37, 1987.

Haines, Lloyd Matthew. Interview and personal communication, May 13, 2020 and other dates.

Hall, Aaron. “Exploring with Beavers, Nature’s Ecosystem Engineers,” Defenders of Wildlife website, September 28, 2016.
https://defenders.org/blog/2016/09/exploring-beavers-natures-ecosystem-engineers

Kuiryamf. “‘We Are Here’ statue relocated to Hannon Library,” The Siskiyou, January 15, 2013. (accessed May 14, 2020)
https://siskiyou.sou.edu/2013/01/15/we-are-here-statue-relocated-to-hannon-library/

Langford, Jack. Interview and personal communication, May 20, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Jack, for allowing my wife and me to be present at a bronze casting.

Martin, Nadine. Many thanks for reviewing the articles.

Norman, Julie. Interview and personal communication, August 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your photos and videos with me.

Paris-Stamm, Glen. 31-minute Video. “Artist on Your Doorstep presents: Jack Langford, Sculptor, ‘We Are Here'(prayer pole now in bronze),” City of Ashland website. (accessed January 18, 2021)
http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=18059
Also available directly on YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD73OiZBf6Q

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker (Taowhywee). Grandma Says: Wake Up World, Blackstone Publishing, 2015.

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=108

Rose, Karen. May 25, 2002. “Takelma Indians: An Essay on Native Americans in the Rogue River Area,” Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society, Hugo, OR. For the entire essay, go to http://www.hugoneighborhood.org/takelma.htm

Sapir, Edward. “Notes on the Takelma Indians of Southwestern Oregon,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, April-June, 1907.

Valencia, Mandy. “We Are Here,” Ashland Daily Tidings, December 21, 2012.
https://ashlandtidings.com/archive/-we-are-here–04-27-2018

Valencia, Mandy. 5-minute Video. “We Are Here Dedication Ceremony,” Ashland Tidings website, May 24, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://kzclip.com/video/9d5d_FoTkq4/we-are-here-dedication-ceremony.html

Valencia, Mandy. 4-minute Video. Russell Beebe carving eyes in the bronze We Are Here statue, Ashland Tidings website, April 2, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TqrdKFuu-E

Valencia, Mandy. 3-minute Video. Color heating of the We Are Here bronze statue (Jack Langford and Russell Beebe), Ashland Tidings website, April 15, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB4eP7F88M8

Wahpepah, Dan. Interview, August 10, 2020.

Young, James Royce. James took many of the photos from the creation of “We Are Here” in both wood and bronze, as well as photos of the 2006 dedication and the 2012 move to SOU Hannon Library. I thank James for sharing so many of his photos with me.

“We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Bronze Replica, Part 2 of 3)

(Part 2 of 3: Bronze replica on North Main Street, 
stories from 2011 to 2020)

Honoring Rogue Valley Native Americans.
Making of the bronze replica. 
34 photos.
Artist: Jack Langford.
Ashland Public Art Series.

“The ‘We Are Here’ sculpture has had a healing effect on the valley.” 

Russell Beebe

Summary of “We Are Here” – Part 1

“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley. In addition to a sculpture, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. The bronze replica is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet, a very visible location just one block from the Plaza. 

"We Are Here" location map
The red arrow points to the location of “We Are Here” (#1) on North Main Street near where Lithia Way joins it. Other numbers on the map indicate additional additional public artworks. (map from Ashland Public Arts Commission page at City of Ashland website)

Local attorney and arts patron Matthew Haines felt called to have the wood carving made from an alder tree that was cut down. He hired Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, to be the sculptor (wood carver). The late Takelma elder Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim) was the model for Takelma woman on “We Are Here,” shown in the photo below.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” prayer pole, Takelma woman modeled on Grandma Aggie (photo by Peter Finkle, 2009)

Grandma Aggie performed ceremonies for the tree and then the Prayer Pole, including at the original September 30, 2006 dedication. Within a few years, Beebe and Haines realized that the soft alder wood of the sculpture would deteriorate irreparably if it continued to be exposed to the elements for many years. There was only one way to save “We Are Here” — to move it indoors. But that meant losing this visible, public location for an artwork that honors Native people of the Rogue Valley.

From wood to bronze, the story continues

After discussing alternatives, Haines and Beebe decided that a bronze casting of the sculpture would be ideal. However, they faced two daunting challenges: first, find the money for a bronze of this size, and second, find someone local with the skill to cast a bronze from this huge, complicated wood carving. As often happens in happy-ending stories, everything clicked into place. Here is the story as I heard it.

Haines, Pilgrim and Beebe, October 29, 2004
Lloyd Matthew Haines, Agnes Baker Pilgrim and Russell Beebe, October 29, 2004 (photo by James Royce Young)

This was not a simple bronze casting. The statue was not only 19’ to 20’ tall, it was also complex. The carved branches of the tree and the details of the carving called for years of experience with bronze work. It also meant a very large budget. 

As Haines was mulling these problems, a buyer unexpectedly appeared for one of Haines’ buildings that was not even for sale! The purchase took place and he had some extra money. 

Jack Langford

Jack Langford, a local bronze artist, has been a professional sculptor since 1980. He has operated bronze foundries in Israel, Maine and now in Southern Oregon.

At the same time Haines was trying to determine who would have the skill locally to cast a bronze of this size, Langford was hit with a one-two punch that rocked him. He had just completed the complex and expensive process of moving his entire sculpture studio from Talent to Ashland. After only one week in the new studio, the building owner told him to leave, and to clear out within a week! He came out of the meeting with the building owner reeling both mentally and emotionally. His friend Jesse Biesanz, a stone worker, happened to be there visiting. Jesse heard his plight and said, “I have an idea.” The next day, Biesanz brought Haines to meet with Langford.

Jack Langford
Jack Langford (left) and Kevin Christman at a bronze pour at Jack’s studio. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Langford’s extensive experience working with bronze met Haines’ need. Haines offered Langford the “We Are Here” commission. Soon after, Langford found space at Jackson Wellsprings where he could work on it. The bronze casting project was underway.

Bronze casting of “We Are Here” 

Jack Langford worked on the bronze casting of “We Are Here” for almost a year. With his son as assistant, he began in June 2012 by erecting a scaffold around the wood statue and making a mold of it. Writing “making a mold” oversimplifies the complex process. With a statue this large, they could only create molds a small section at a time. “We Are Here” required 55 molds all together to create the bronze replica!

Starting at the bottom, they made each mold by painting a flexible polyurethane material over the wood of a small area.

This material captured every detail of the wood carving – cracks, knots and all – without harming it. They then applied a rigid epoxy-like material over the flexible layer. 

This photo shows flexible polyurethane molds in Jack Langford’s studio. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
"We Are Here"
“We Are Here,” Jack Langford applying polyurethane flexible molds. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

After the two layers were removed together, each flexible mold was transformed through many steps into a rigid mold made of fused silica powder.  Fused silica molds could withstand the heat of liquid bronze. Each individual bronze casting is a complex, multi-stage, labor-intensive process. It is an art and a science, and both have to be balanced every step of the way. 

Finally, Langford would have to reassemble the 55 small bronze castings back into one sculpture. We will get to that in a moment. 

The rigid ceramic molds are made, through a multi-step process, in this room of Jack Langford’s studio. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

2,000-degree melted bronze was poured – very carefully, wearing padding and face protection – into each of the 55 silica molds!

Jack Langford
Kevin Christman (left) and Jack Langford are carrying a ceramic crucible filled with liquid bronze, melted at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Note: This bronze is for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Jack Langford
Photo of liquid bronze being poured into ceramic molds. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Brief video of liquid bronze being poured into ceramic molds. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (video by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Hammering freed each bronze casting from its silica mold. I winced when the hammering began. Jack assured me, with a laugh, that he was not damaging the sculpture.  

Jack Langford
Jack Langford is breaking the rigid ceramic mold off of a cooling bronze casting. Note: This mold is for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same.(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The photo below shows what the bronze looked like just out of the mold, with lots of silica sand still stuck to it. Precision sandblasting removed every bit of the silica.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” bronze casting process. Shortly after this piece was removed from the silica mold, some of the white silica is still attached to the bronze.(still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

Finally, the molds were combined back into one piece. It took a surprising amount of  pounding, clamping, tacking, welding, torching, grinding and polishing to get the bronze “We Are Here” that we see at North Main Street and Lithia Way today.  

Here is a peek at the welding.

Here is torching of the sculpture. Langford used a patina torch to apply a concentrated flame to the entire surface of the bronze replica. Then, while the bronze metal was still hot, he and Beebe ground the entire surface with small wire brushes to smooth out rough spots. The patina torch and wire brush sanding were both done twice.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here,” Jack Langford applying patina torch to bronze. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

The final step was polishing the entire surface of “We Are Here” with carnauba wax, followed by buffing with a soft cloth. This was also done twice.

Two changes from the wood sculpture to the bronze replica

Before Langford began his work, he and carver Russell Beebe met at the wood statue. Langford explained that in the transition from wood to bronze, he could make adjustments to the statue if Beebe wanted any. Beebe considered this and requested two changes.

The first change was thinner wings for the Canada goose at the top of the statue. As he was carving the tree, Beebe kept the wings thicker than he would have liked in order to be sure the wood didn’t crack or break. For the bronze replica, Langford made molds for only the outer side of the wings. Then Beebe came to Langford’s studio and sculpted thinner, more detailed wings in clay for the bronze casting.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” – Russell Beebe is carving the clay mold for Canada goose inner wings on bronze replica. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

These two photos show the comparison. Wings on the bronze “We Are Here” are much thinner, with beautiful detail that is missing from the original wood statue. We as viewers benefit from the close cooperation between the wood carver artist and the bronze worker artist.

Second was another detail I had never noticed. Because of the shape of the tree in the original carving, Beebe had to carve the stag (deer) antler connecting with the Canada goose, as if it were goring the goose. When the bronze casting was created, Beebe and Langford made a slight adjustment in this area so the stag antler is free standing and no longer appears to be goring the goose.

You can compare the two for yourself by viewing the original wood “We Are Here” prayer pole at Southern Oregon University Hannon Library and the bronze replica on North Main Street one block from the Ashland Plaza. Currently (April 2021), the SOU library is closed to non-students. However, “We Are Here” is placed near a large window. You can’t walk all around it and see it up close, but you can see it through the window.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” at SOU Hannon Library. This is the original wood sculpture. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2015)

A memorable day

One of Langford’s most memorable days creating the bronze was October 29, 2012. On that day, Oregon Shakespeare Festival hosted an evening event featuring Grandma Aggie, Russell Beebe, Dan Wahpepah, Brent Florendo and others. Grandma Aggie gave a talk about the Oregon Trail of Tears in 1856.  

After dark, Langford poured bronze into a mold, as Grandma Aggie and 80 other people looked on. This was his final bronze casting for “We Are Here.” Fittingly, this casting was of Grandma Aggie’s face near the top of the sculpture. 

This photo shows Grandma Aggie and her daughter Nadine Martin looking on as Russell Beebe uses a hammer to remove the ceramic mold from the bronze casting of Grandma Aggie’s face. As mentioned above, this was the final bronze casting for the bronze replica of “We Are Here.” (photo by James Royce Young)

The bronze replica base

Jesse Biesanz made the base for the bronze replica, and also used his boom truck to lift the bronze sculpture into place on the base. This base has a theme of river rocks, as does Biesanz’s base for “We Are Here” in the SOU library. 

"We Are Here" Ashland
River rocks on base of “We Are Here” bronze replica, base created by Jesse Biesanz. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“This is about healing.”

Grandma Aggie

Installation and Dedication, May 2013

"We Are Here" bronze replica dedication
At the dedication for “We Are Here” bronze replica in May 2013. From left, Jack Langford, Dan Wahpepah, Matthew Haines, Grandma Aggie. (still photo from Mandy Valencia video, May 24, 2013)

The bronze replica of “We Are Here” was installed and dedicated in May of 2013. Continuing the theme of ceremony associated with “We Are Here,” there was a small blessing ceremony with Grandma Aggie, her daughter Nadine Martin, Matthew Haines and Jack Langford when the sturdy steel band to anchor the sculpture was bolted into place. More ceremony, with offerings and songs, took place at the bronze replica dedication.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” bronze replica is being installed at its site, May 2013.(still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)
James Royce Young took this wonderful photo of wood carver Russell Beebe shaking hands with bronze artist Jack Langford at the dedication of the “We Are Here” bronze replica. Russell Beebe carved the original wood “We Are Here” from the alder tree. It is now at SOU Hannon Library. Jack Langford made the bronze replica from the wood original. (photo by James Royce Young)

Langford did not work closely with Grandma Aggie on the bronze replica, as he did with sculptor Beebe. However, Langford told me he was deeply moved by Grandma Aggie’s words to him the day his bronze replica of “We Are Here” was installed. She told him that she felt the presence of Spirit just as strongly in the new bronze replica as she did in the original alder tree prayer pole.

When the bronze replica was installed at the site, Grandma Aggie said, “What a gift Jack has. I want to praise and thank him too. My name is Taowhywee, my Native name. My English name is Agnes Baker Pilgrim, and I’m the oldest living descendant of the Takelma Indians that once lived in this valley for 22,000 years that we know of. I’m very proud to stand here today and honor this statue that they’ve done, that the bronze man Jack has done. What a beautiful spiritual thing it is to my heart. It will touch the lives of people that come by. Now this will be here into perpetuity. It is a great honor to the ancient people of this land that lived here for over 22,000 years.”    

Detail photos of bronze replica

See some details of the bronze replica below. When I view it up close, I am amazed by how many details of the wood carving – including cracks and knots in the wood – are captured by the bronze replica.