“Gift” – Public art at Library entrance

A gift to the artist.
A gift to the community.
In memory of Jack Hardesty.
Artist: Wataru Sugiyama.
Ashland Public Art series.

“There was an empty pedestal along the stairway. My daughter and I looked at the pedestal, and I saw an image there. Then my hesitation was gone.” 

Wataru Sugiyama

Why it’s called “Gift”

This sculpture is called “Gift” because Wataru experienced being guided during the entire process of creating it. The gifts he received through this artwork also involved people. Making it brought him closer to his daughter. It also brought him together in shared mourning with his friend Alice Hardesty, who purchased the sculpture as a memorial to her late husband Jack (who was also Wataru’s friend). 

Inauspicious beginning

The beginning of this meaningful process was inauspicious. Wataru told me, “A friend came to my studio and said, ‘Hey Wataru, the city is looking for a stone sculpture.’ I felt like kind of a beginner at carving stone, and just said ‘Thank you for letting me know.’ At that point I was perhaps 40% interested and 60% thinking I’m not going to do anything about it.” 

At this time, in 2008, the Public Arts Commission (PAC) thought about installing a rotating sculpture gallery along the Calle Guanajuato stairway, which connects Calle Guanajuato with Granite Street. The idea was to have two or three sculptures on pedestals for a year or two, then sell those (or give them back to the artists) and change them out for two or three new ones. From Wataru’s story, it seems that they were considering a stone sculpture on one specific pedestal along the stairway.

Wataru visited the site with his daughter

Wataru’s friend had told him the location being considered for this new sculpture. Skeptical but intrigued, one day Wataru took his daughter, River Davis, with him to visit the site – and that made all the difference. His story continued: “One weekend, my daughter and I went to the site. I was just curious where it was going to be. When I saw it I remembered, when she was in elementary school, her teachers organized the kids and their parents to clean up the weeds right there. I had a good memory of that day, some kind of connection with the place.”

Empty pedestal…’no hesitation’

“There was an empty pedestal along the stairway. My daughter and I looked at the pedestal, and I saw an image there. Then my hesitation was gone.”

Inspired, he and his daughter went right from there to Leave Your Mark, a business on Highway 99 that sells many kinds of stones. “First I was looking for sandstone, a much softer rock,” Wataru said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t have any sandstone that time. A lady came over and said, ‘How about this one, a piece of granite? I know it’s really hard.’ It was really beautiful. Sandstone usually has one color, but granite has little bit different colors. It felt like the stone was waiting for me or something. There was no hesitation.”

There is that phrase again – “no hesitation.” 

Describing his carving of Gift on the Oregon Art Beat television feature about him, Wataru said: “I start with a conversation with the stone. It guides me. That’s the best way to shape it. Until I hear that voice, I don’t want to touch it.”

Wataru first talked to me about the sculpture Gift as I visited him in his small Ashland studio. We were surrounded by many of his whimsical works I had seen at Hanson-Howard Gallery and other galleries. Here are photos of several.

art by Wataru Sugiyama
Joyful elephants and other whimsical art by Wataru Sugiyama. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Art by Wataru Sugiyama
Whimsical artwork by Wataru Sugiyama: the turtle band, with a patient mother. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

With an abstract, ‘you can carve forever’

He made the point that stone carving was relatively new to him, and creating an abstract sculpture was also relatively new to him. Here is how he expressed the learning curve and the frustration he felt.

"Gift" by Wataru Sugiyama
“Gift” by Wataru Sugiyama. Artistic view of the back of the sculpture and the library chimney. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“I started carving, the whole winter. It’s an abstract, so no answer. With these [Wataru pointed to animal designs in clay in the studio] I can have a little more answer, but abstract you can carve forever, because no obvious finishing point. One day, I was exhausted, kind of getting fever. I had been working outside every day carving, then a missed shot with my hammer and chisel made a scratch that gave me a kind of inspiration. That was, again, not my talent but an accident. That’s why I call the sculpture ‘Gift.'” 

Influence of Machu Picchu

During the year he was working on Gift, Wataru had a chance to go to Peru, to Machu Picchu. “One day I went to the garden of the Pachamama,” he said. “I saw water running on a stone there. Seeing water go through rock inspired me.”

With its original setting near Ashland Creek, the Public Arts Commission had suggested “water” as a theme for the sculpture. With this inspiration from the trip to Peru, Wataru carved a flowing pattern from the top to the bottom of the piece of granite. I asked, “Tell me more about the theme of water.” “It’s not logical,” he replied, “but way, way high up in the mountain there, it’s like a water source at the top, right? Imagine a stream coming down here from the source, then going into the hole.”

"Gift" by Wataru Sugiyama
“Gift” by Wataru Sugiyama, in memory of Jack Hardesty. See if you can envision a flow of water from the very top, down the middle to the base. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Alice and Jack Hardesty

In May 2009, Gift was installed on the pedestal Wataru had visited with his daughter, halfway up the Calle Guanajuato stairway. As mentioned, it was intended to be a temporary installation. Just two months later, in July 2009, Alice Hardesty told the Public Arts Commission she would purchase Gift. According to the Commission minutes, “She offered the piece as a gift of public art to the City of Ashland. The piece is offered in memorial of her late husband and former city councilor Jack Hardesty.” The City Council accepted the gift of “Gift” to the city that August.

Wataru explained to me that he had been friends with Jack and Alice Hardesty for some years. Jack, a big fan of art, especially liked Wataru’s work. Alice told Wataru that Jack had left some money in an account, and that purchasing this artwork in Jack’s memory was a perfect use of the money.

Move to the Ashland Library

"Gift" by Wataru Sugiyama
This shows the setting of “Gift,” just outside the back door of the Ashland Public Library. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

A couple years later, the Public Arts Commission developed plans for other art along the Calle Guanajuato stairway. Fast forward to December 2011. PAC commissioner Dana Bussell and Ashland head librarian Amy Blossom identified a permanent location for Gift near the rear entrance to the Ashland Library. Gift was installed there in June 2012. The sign on the sculpture says: 

Wataru Sugiyama
In Memory of Jack Hardesty.
Art opens the eyes.

As Wataru spoke with me, he pointed to one spot that he said looked a little like eyes carved in the rock, and another spot that looked a little like hands praying. 

"Gift" by Wataru Sugiyama
“Gift” by Wataru Sugiyama. Do you see eyes? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Wataru’s deep emotional connections

Wataru has deep emotional connections with a few of his artworks, Gift among them. He said the sculpture turned out a lot like his vision on the Calle Guanajuato stairway, and that it was very meaningful that his daughter River had first looked at the empty pedestal with him.   

“I have a lot of sentimental memories with my daughter in this sculpture. I told her, ‘Daddy cannot live forever. So when someday I go, if you want to see me, come over here. This is kind of my gravestone.'” 

"Gift" by Wataru Sugiyama
Side view of “Gift,” by Wataru Sugiyama. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Wataru described how his art changed after his daughter grew up and he did not have to focus quite so much on making a certain amount of money every month. “Now, everything I do from my inner child. The more I enjoy, the more the art appeals to the people.”

Wataru Sugiyama

Watch an Oregon Art Beat video about Wataru

In this moving 10-minute segment from Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Art Beat show, Wataru talks about the making of Gift and also about his mother.

“Wataru, when did you become an artist?”

Wataru’s story is so unusual and so gripping that I’d like to share it with you in some detail. All you need to know as background is that Wataru grew up in Japan.

When I asked that question — “when did you become an artist?” — he replied, “I did not have any art experience when I lived in Japan. I used to be an engineer, helping build things like sewer pipes or tunnels for trains. Just smoking cigarettes, two packs a day, while I was drawing the blueprints. One day I got a call from the government, complaining that my lines were too thick. I thought, Oh my gosh, I cannot do this.”

“I felt like I needed to find what I really wanted to do with my life. I never consciously chose the path to become an engineer. I did it because my father recommended it. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just did it.” 

“I finally got tired of working as engineer Monday through Saturday, go out drinking Saturday evening, then hangover on Sunday morning. There was no time for myself. One day I was sitting on the couch, and I heard a voice inside, ‘Wataru, are you sure you want to continue this?’ My answer was ready – ‘No.’ So I wrote a letter to the boss and told him I quit.”

“I wanted to study again, to look for something I really want to do with my life. I remembered that my favorite subject when I was in school was English. When I quit my job, I went to the private language institute in Tokyo.” For some reason, the receptionist told Wataru he could not study there full-time, but he could take night classes at the institute.

After three years of night classes at the private language institute, he met a woman who changed his life: Allis Cole. An American from Ashland, whose husband Philip Davidson was a Shakespeare actor, she encouraged Wataru to study English in America. As Wataru remembers the conversation, “She told me Ashland is very quiet, the right place for me.” 

“Allis Cole was still in Tokyo when I came to Ashland, and I stayed at her husband’s house for a month or so. Then I went to school at SOU. First I had a speech/communication major because I really wanted to improve my English. Toward the end of the speech/communication major, I needed to take an art class, an elective to fill up my credits. That term I took a ceramics class. I was not interested in throwing the pots. I just wanted to make something with clay – and I really got into it! I wasn’t sure this was going to be my path, but I did like it.”

“So I kept doing it and doing it [art and sculpture]. Then school President Dr. Cox gave me a full scholarship to study art in graduate school at SOU. A second-generation Japanese American gave me a room and food while I studied. Still I needed to work as a janitor early in the morning, cleaning bathrooms. I got an M.A. in art.”

“After graduation, I rented a studio space at the same time I cleaned up at Mihama Restaurant. I felt kind of weird, because when I graduated, I got a summa honor. My parents even came from Japan to the graduation. Then a couple weeks later, I ended up cleaning the bathroom at Mihama.” Wataru laughed at his memory, then went on: “I felt like, it’s okay. I have to accept the reality, because I have to rent a studio space.” 

For years, Wataru worked hard at his clay art. Well-known potter Jim Robinson was a mentor who introduced Wataru to art shows in Seattle, San Francisco, Sedona and many other cities. Little by little, people got to know his work and he supported himself through his art.

From clay to granite and marble

Wataru met local sculptor and expert bronze caster Jack Langford through a friend. I wrote about Jack’s work in the article “‘We Are Here’ Honors Native Americans (Bronze Replica, Part 2 of 3).

Jack came to Wataru’s studio and looked at his work. He said, “Wataru, you’ve gotta carve stone.” Wataru thought Jack was crazy. His art was made with clay, not stone. But Jack dropped off one stone at Wataru’s studio. That piece of stone sat there for two years. Wataru laughed as he said, “Then one day, I started getting triggered, thinking I wanted to do something in different media. That was Jack’s influence.” Wataru has great respect for Jack’s capabilities as an artist, and thinks of him as expert with metal, wood, stone and more.

Wataru has been working with stone, as well as clay, ever since. Gift, of course, is carved of stone. The photos below show another one of Wataru’s creations, this one in marble.

Wataru Sugiyama art in marble, called “Bonding,” in the private collection of Raymond Barry.
You can see it on Clear Creek Drive. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Wataru Sugiyama art in marble, called “Bonding,” head detail.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Wataru’s huge new artwork stirred my emotions

When I first stood before this nearly-13-foot tall sculpture, I had a mixture of emotions. First was surprise at how large it loomed above me and before me. After that, I was in awe of the detail I noticed carved into every surface, from the bottom to the top. Finally, when I settled down and stood quietly with the artwork, I felt a deep relaxation within me. 

"May You Feel Peace Within" by Wataru Sugiyama
“May You Feel Peace Within” by Wataru Sugiyama, sculpted in clay – overview of artwork. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
Wataru Sugiyama
Jack Langford (on left) and Wataru Sugiyama (on right) with “May You Find Peace Within” towering over them.

Therefore, I was not surprised when Wataru showed me this drawing of the planned sculpture. It looks like he began working on it during February 2020. You can see where he later wrote his title for the sculpture: “May You Feel Peace Within.”  

"May You Feel Peace Within" by Wataru Sugiyama
“May You Feel Peace Within” by Wataru Sugiyama, design illustration and title. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
"May You Feel Peace Within" by Wataru Sugiyama
“May You Feel Peace Within” by Wataru Sugiyama, sculpted in clay – detail of feet. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)
"May You Feel Peace Within" by Wataru Sugiyama
“May You Feel Peace Within” by Wataru Sugiyama, sculpted in clay – detail photo. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Wataru’s description of “May You Feel Peace Within”

In his description of the sculpture, Wataru wrote: “Although I don’t remember the exact moment I envisioned this sculpture, perhaps the image of an owl has been building steadily in my mind through the years. I’ve been sculpting in a small barn in the forests of southern Oregon for 15 years and have become quite close with a family of Great Horned Owls that nest in the rafters above my studio. Watching has always given me a sense of stillness and calmness even as the world around is far from that.”

owl in barn
This resident owl at Wataru Sugiyama’s art studio inspires his sculptures. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

“The non-owl portions of this sculpture are influenced by the spirit of Kannon. She’s a Buddhist Bodhisattva, which means she has chosen to forgo her own enlightenment to stay behind and help everyone who suffers in this world. I believe she dwells within this sculpture.” 

“Those two elements brought together became this anthropomorphic owl. I sculpted my feelings of compassion and love into this figure and now when I stand in front of it I feel a calming sense of compassion resounding from it. As a sculptor it would be my greatest joy if those who stand and face this sculpture also feel peace within, even just for a moment.”

Something about standing before this artwork does take me to a peaceful place within
"May You Feel Peace Within" by Wataru Sugiyama
“May You Feel Peace Within” by Wataru Sugiyama, sculpted in clay. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Making a large bronze statue takes big bucks

Wataru envisions a bronze casting of “May You Find Peace Within” that will reside at an outdoor sculpture garden or museum. The challenge: making a large statue like this in bronze is very expensive. Wataru is raising money toward his goal. If you would like to donate a small amount, or if you could donate thousands of dollars towards the bronze casting, you can reach Wataru at his email address, listed below under References.


Sugiyama, Wataru. His email address is watarusculpting@gmail.com.

Sugiyama, Wataru. Interview and personal communications, July 2021 and other dates.

Oregon Art Beat feature about Wataru Sugiyama, October 2020, Oregon Public Broadcasting.  (You will find the link in the photo essay above.)

“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)


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 – 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 – 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. 

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.


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.

Nourishing Our Community: Public Art in Stone on Lithia Way

Hard stone, tender words.
In memory of three Ashland community leaders.
Great location: Lithia Way and Pioneer Street.
Artist: Lonnie Feather.
Ashland Public Art Series.

“The basalt columns represent the strength of family and commitment to community. The embedded glass roundels include words of support…. This is about people; the people who make a difference in our lives.”

     From the Public Arts Commission web page

Rock from Northwest quarries, worked by Oregon artist Lonnie Feather, in memory of three Ashland community leaders of the 20th century. That is the artwork called “Nourishing Our Community.” It sits at one of the busiest intersections in Ashland, at the corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street. 

This photo shows the location of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. It is at the corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Why Lonnie jumped at the chance to do this commission

Lonnie Feather told me why she wanted to make this artwork for Ashland. “Community has always been important to me,” she explained. “It’s the heart of where we live.” Community, to her, is what makes a place, a town or city, thrive and grow. It encompasses family, neighbors, neighborhood, city and even beyond.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
“HOPE” detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

She tried to capture the essence of community in the words and images that accompany the large stones of “Nourishing Our Community.” 


She loves public art because it’s out in the open, where it can be enjoyed by so many people and contribute to building a sense of community.

Everett Henry McGee made this artwork possible

In 2003, the McGee family contacted the Public Arts Commission (PAC) with good news. At his passing, Everett Henry McGee made a bequest in his will to fund a public art sculpture in Ashland. His wish was to honor members of the McGee and Neill families who had been especially active in Ashland community fraternal groups, business and politics through the 20th century. I want to introduce you to the three men he listed in his bequest.

Let’s begin with Everett’s father. James McGee, born in 1877, was one of many Midwesterners to move to Ashland. In 1905 he and Ashland native Olive Wing were married in Portland. I guess she enticed the couple to settle in Ashland. James had trained as an osteopath, but may have practiced for only a few years. He became active as a merchant in Ashland, primarily in dry goods. He was part of the Beebe, Kinney and Drake store (where Brickroom Restaurant is now) and later founded McGee Dry Goods and Ready to Wear on the ground floor of the Elks Building. He was also one of the first to build at Lake of the Woods. 

Talk about active, James was active in the Chamber of Commerce, Lithians, Masons, Shriners, Elk’s Club and Kiwanis Club, plus he was an early Oregon Shakespeare Festival supporter! He also served on the Ashland School Board and Ashland City Council. James and Olive had three children, all boys.

Everett McGee was born to James and Olive in Ashland, July 27, 1909. He followed in his father’s footsteps, both in the grocery business and in Ashland community involvement. Everett’s first grocery experience was one summer operating the store at Lake of the Woods. Moving his business to Ashland, he purchased the East Side Grocery at the corner of Morse Avenue and Siskiyou Boulevard. In 1942, he built the larger Market Basket grocery across the street at Siskiyou Boulevard and Beach Street. In 1942, Everett also began a decade as minister of the Church of Christ in Phoenix, Oregon.

Richard (Dick) Neill is the other family member memorialized by this sculpture with a theme of community. Life brought them together when Everett married Dick’s sister Donzella in 1931.  Dick was co-owner with Everett of Market Basket and of Pioneer Village by the Old Ashland Armory, as well as sole owner of Plaza Grocery from 1957 to 1961. 

Dick was a community leader in Ashland for many years. He was instrumental in getting the Ashland Community Hospital built. After four years on the City Council, he was elected Mayor in 1953 and served until 1968 – that is 16 years as Mayor! He found time to be a member of the Ashland Elks Lodge, Masons and Shriners, in addition to serving as a state-level director of both the League of Oregon Cities and the Independent Grocer’s Association of Oregon. 

Highlights of the Public Arts Commission request for proposals

Here are two sentences I like a lot from the Ashland Public Art Commission’s request for proposals. “The McGee & Neill families have nourished and helped to sustain this community both literally – through their business – and figuratively through their lifelong service to the community. Therefore it is appropriate that we continue this tradition by nourishing the community with a beautiful piece of art that enhances a very visible area at the corner of two important streets in the downtown area.”

As I read about the grocery careers of father and son McGee and Dick Neill, my imagination took off and I envisioned the sculpture in a community garden. Then I read the Public Arts Commission minutes from October 2004 and learned that “Nourishing Our Community” was almost placed in front of the Ashland Food Coop store. That would have been appropriate for a memorial to community and grocery store owners! In the end, it was decided to place the sculpture on public property at its current location, which makes sense for an artwork owned by the City of Ashland.

Lonnie Feather’s proposal to PAC

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
This illustration is part of the proposal Lonnie Feather submitted to the Public Arts Commission in 2005. Her design was chosen. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Based on this illustration that Lonnie submitted to PAC in 2005, she was awarded the commission to create the Nourishing Our Community public artwork. 

The challenge of working with stone

“To think about and create a public art piece involves so many parts of the brain.”   

Lonnie Feather

“It was an exciting commission for me,” Lonnie told me. “I had never worked in stone. I just loved the idea of the permanence of the stone pillars, carving into them and adding the glass elements. I wanted to make it interesting to walk around the artwork, for people to consider the meaning of words like ‘support’ and ‘community.'”

artist Lonnie Feather
Lonnie Feather created the lettering for Nourishing Our Community. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

“All of it was a fun challenge for me. I got to put the hard hat on to work with the stone. I had to call the truck to bring the large stones over to my studio. Then in Ashland to be involved in digging the hole and the installation. That whole process was so fun for me: thinking out the logistics, how to do it, what’s safe, what fits the Ashland community, what’s the aesthetic I’m going after. To think about and create a public art piece involves so many parts of the brain.”

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Lonnie Feather sandblasted the letters into stone. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

She came to Ashland a couple times to meet with the Public Arts Commission. She also had meetings with the public in Ashland, both to present her idea and to hear from Ashlanders.

Installation and dedication of the artwork

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Stones for Nourishing Our Community were unloaded at the site in May 2006. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Lonnie hired a company to help install her stone sculpture. They sucked the dirt out of the hole where it is located. About one-third of the height of the stones is underground, so we see only the top two-thirds. The hole was filled with layers of gravel, concrete and dirt to stabilize the sculpture. 

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Installation of Nourishing Our Community, with Lonnie Feather in the background. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

The artwork dedication took place on June 12, 2006.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Nourishing Our Community was dedicated June 12, 2006. Here is a copy of the dedication flyer. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

The meaning of Nourishing Our Community

“I wanted to represent the circle that builds thriving, compassionate community.”

Lonnie Feather

To Lonnie, both the feeling and the practice of community are essential for a town to not only survive, but also to thrive. The practice of community can be very practical, she said. “It’s about how people solve problems, how they decide about what to build or not build, how they want their community to look. I think it’s important in this day and age that we get back to the idea of what is our community.” 

In a deeper way, it’s about the connections we have with each other on multiple levels. “How do we support each other? How do we honor each other? How do we cherish what we have?” In her inner vision and in her art, she sees community reflected in circles. One small circle is the family unit. Most people care deeply about their family. Branching out, the circle gets bigger. Do people also care deeply about their neighborhood and city, and participate in helping them be good places to live? “Then it blows up to, how are we taking care of our planet?” Definitely the big picture! 

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Glass hands detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

You will notice that the glass insets are circles. Lonnie said, “Using hands, I tried to represent the human to human connection in those circles of glass.”

How an artist was created

“In my family, it was never called ‘art.’ It was just part of our lives.”

Lonnie Feather

Before art can be created, the artist has to be created. When I asked Lonnie how she became an artist, she immediately gave credit to her family. She grew up with a father, grandmother and grandfather who all created objects of utility and beauty as part of their daily lives. Then she surprised me when she added, “In my family, it was never called ‘art.’ It was just part of our lives.” Her father enjoyed drawing and sculpture. His many woodworking projects were both practical and beautiful. For example, when the family needed a sofa, he designed and built one from the ground up – from initial sketches to final upholstery. 

Her grandmother taught Lonnie about making candles and creating delicious food. When Lonnie was in high school, her grandfather took a class in stained glass. She told me, “I looked at him doing that and thought, ‘That would be fun.’ So he set up a table in his basement, and we got to make little stained glass ornaments together.” 

In her 20s, she decided to make art more of her life. She opened up a little stained glass business: taught classes, sold supplies, did private commissions. 

It wasn’t until she studied glass art for two summers at Pilchuck Glass School that she began to think of herself as a “professional artist.” This was a turning point in her life, when she decided glass would be her specialty going forward. In the decades since then, she got an art degree at Portland State University and she has continued “growing and making and thinking and exploring” in order to stay creative. She grows through traveling. She finds inspiration in nature, which she brings back into the studio and incorporates into her current artwork.

Lonnie lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where she was also born and raised. Her website ( https://www.lonniefeather.com/#/ ) describes her “variety of mediums and techniques which include painting on glass, glass sandcarving, cast glass, murals, mixed media with glass, wood carving and stone sculpture.”

Other artworks by Lonnie Feather

Here are several selections from her lifetime of artwork. 

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
“It Begins Within the Circle” consists of two large artworks at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. The artist is Lonnie Feather. (photo from Oregon Percent for Art website)

I am very impressed by the two large pieces (photos above and below) that were installed on the first floor and third floor of the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford in 2008. Lonnie told me: “The title, ‘It Begins Within the Circle’, reflects the idea again about the circle of community and life in the beautiful southern Oregon valley. I combined two techniques in glass – the colored areas are sandblasted and painted on plate glass and the clear is a relief with cast glass with a design reminiscent of swirling water as the beginning of that circle.”

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
“It Begins Within the Circle” consists of two large artworks at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. The artist is Lonnie Feather. (photo from Oregon Percent for Art website)

The example below shows some of her current work. She combines her love of water color painting with cast stone. Part of her series Dreams of Water, this piece is called Roots of Life. 

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
This piece, titled “Roots of Life,” is an example of current art by Lonnie Feather. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Closing words

The corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street has pluses and minuses as a place for public art. On the plus side, its location between the large Lithia Way parking lot and Oregon Shakespeare Festival (as well as East Main Street) means that thousands of people see the sculpture every day. On the minus side, this spot is far from meditative! It is not a spot that draws you to linger for a while and appreciate the artwork. Too much concrete and asphalt.

Nevertheless, I encourage you to slow down the next time you walk by this corner. Walk slowly around the powerful stones that are likely to be here for many human lifetimes. As you read the word “HOPE,” try to feel the hope that Lonnie Feather put into this art. Reflect on the words carved into stone to encourage thriving, compassionate community.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
“Cherish” detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)


Anon. Obituary for Everett Henry McGee, Oregon Obituary and Death Notice Archive, at GenLookups.com.  (accessed April 19, 2021)

Anon. “Request for Proposal: McGee-Neill Memorial Sculpture, Nourishing Our Community, March 23, 2005,” City of Ashland.

Anon. Minutes of the Public Arts Commission, City of Ashland website, October 15, 2004 and other dates.

Anon. State of Oregon Art Collection, Percent for Art program. (accessed May 12, 2021)

Feather, Lonnie. Interview and other communications, April 15, 2021 and other dates. Thanks to Lonnie for sharing her photos with me.

Feather, Lonnie. Link to her website

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


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.


Sailor Boy Media website

“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.

"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.


“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.” 


“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.”  

"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.”

"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 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.” 


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.


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.


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.

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)

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)

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)

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.

Kuiryamf. “‘We Are Here’ statue relocated to Hannon Library,” The Siskiyou, January 15, 2013. (accessed May 14, 2020)

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)
Also available directly on YouTube

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

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)

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.

Valencia, Mandy. 5-minute Video. “We Are Here Dedication Ceremony,” Ashland Tidings website, May 24, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)

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)

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)

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.