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.
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.
See three flowery fence murals. Meet two high school student-artists. Photo essay with 24 photos. Ashland Neighborhood Art series.
Orchid Street and Rose Lane are two short streets in the Fordyce neighborhood. After I saw the beautiful murals on Fordyce Street, I decided to walk more of the neighborhood.
Why I got excited
I walked Orchid Street and Rose Lane twice – once in September 2020 by myself and again in April 2021 with my wife Kathy. Where Rose Lane ends at Orchid Street, I spotted bright, beautiful colors during my September walk – another mural on a fence! I was excited. I took photographs and made a mental note to try to meet the mural artist sometime. That time finally came in March 2021, when I learned this mural was a collaboration of two young artists.
Genesis of the sunflower fence mural
When I met the artists Reed Pryor and Ainsley Gibbs, I learned that both are high school seniors this year (2021). Reed is at Ashland High and Ainsley at St. Mary’s High. Both love art. Reed’s parents asked them in July 2020 to add some color to the yard by painting this fence. Reed explained, “My parents lived in France for a couple of years. They were really into the sunflower fields. My dad is a big fan of the Tour de France, which shows great drone shots of riders going through these massive fields of sunflowers. It’s just so beautiful. I think that was the inspiration.”
Reed asked his girl-friend Ainsley, a serious student of art, to help him with the project.
The sunflower mural process
Step 1: The wood on this fence was weathered, cracked, and soaked up paint. That made it challenging to end up with bright colors. They decided to begin with a thick coat of primer on the fence, which prepared the wood for the sunflower colors to follow. The primer made a big difference to the quality of the finished art.
Step 2: They sketched their sunflower design on the fence.
Step 3: They added blocks of green color for the leaves. For the flower petals, they began with blocks of white. By doing that, they hoped the next coat of bright yellow would stand out more.
Step 4: Ainsley described the detail work as the fun part. For the final stage, they blended colors and focused on the beauty of each flower.
Sunflowers in front of sunflowers
I asked how long ago they painted the fence. Reed replied, “We did it in July of 2020. Actually, in the summer we have sunflowers growing right here.” As he pointed close to where we were standing, he continued, “Last summer the sunflowers grew really tall and blocked the view of the mural from the sidewalk. It was funny, because when summer went and we took them out, then people started noticing the sunflowers behind on the fence.”
Having sunflowers growing in the front yard was an advantage during the final stage of painting. As they painted the detail of each flower petal, the two walked over to the real sunflowers a few feet away to study color patterns and gradients!
Lifelong love of art
Ainsley explained that her love for art has been heavily influenced by her schooling. She said, “I went to Siskiyou School, which is a Waldorf school, from 1st grade through 8th grade. Classes are focused around art. We did a lot of drawing, painting and calligraphy. That’s when I started developing my skills because I practiced every day. For example, in Biology we would be learning about cellular respiration and we would make a very realistic drawing of the process. During these years, art became a part of my life. When I went to high school, I took some art classes and I continued to paint, mostly watercolor portraits. As I get ready to go to college, I think art in some form is in my future.”
I asked Ainsley to send me several samples of her recent artwork. The watercolor below particularly moved me, both for the emotions it captures and for the thoughtfulness of the concept.
Reed was humble about his skills, but he has also loved to make art for most of his life. As he went through the public schools, art received very little focus. His main artform is sketching with pencil. He would like to become an architect, a career that would combine his interests in art, science and engineering.
Neighborhood pocket park
There’s a small, practical, privately owned neighborhood pocket park at the intersection of Orchid Street and Rose Lane. It looks like a great spot for neighbors to gather for a picnic or to catch some summer rays.
Orchid Street sights that brought me smiles
I don’t have other special stories to tell about Orchid Street. But as I walked the block in September and again in March, I saw small sights that brought a smile to my face. Here are some of them.
Rose Lane murals
The most colorful sights on Rose Lane are also due to Ainsley and Reed. Nearby neighbor Curly liked their sunflower mural so much that she asked them to paint a gate mural in her yard. She trusted them to choose a beautiful design.
Truth is stranger than fiction
Ainsley laughed as she told my wife and me how she and Reed chose the design. Looking through Pinterest flower images, she found a colorful poppy picture that she scanned and saved. She asked Reed to bring one or two poppy images that he really liked. What happened? He brought her the same image she had chosen for the design! Come on…is this a sappy movie or is this real life? I guess the saying “truth is stranger than fiction” applies here.
Based on that internet image, they drew a colored pencil sketch. Here’s a look at their sketch for the first gate design.
When they showed the homeowner Curly their design for the gate, she heartily approved it. Then she told them, “I don’t have just one gate. I have two you can paint.” They decided to keep the same theme of poppy flowers for the second gate, but with a slightly different look.
The wood was much less weathered here than on their sunflower mural, so the whole process went more smoothly. They didn’t have to use nearly as much primer for the base coat. They outlined their poppy designs in chalk and painted a layer of white where the bright green, red and yellow paints would follow. This helped the bright colors to pop more on the rough wood.
The gate on the other side of Curly’s house provided a slightly larger area to paint. I love the extra artistic touch of a white picket fence and a white arbor entry, which emphasize the deep reds and greens of the flower mural.
What the neighbors say
My wife and I were able to speak briefly with Curly when the artists showed us the murals at her house. She loves the way the paintings turned out. She’s not the only one. Neighbors have been telling Curly that they feel uplifted just seeing the colorful flowers as they walk by. Ainsley and Reed are leaving a positive legacy behind as they get ready to depart for college in the fall.
Other Rose Lane sights
Rose Lane is only one block, but my wife and I found some details to stop, appreciate, and photograph.
This yard will be full of colorful flowers through springtime. The iris, lavender and others accent a curving, rock-edged path to create sweet harmony.
Columnar English Oak
Found at the intersection of Rose Lane and Orchid Street, this is the largest Columnar English Oak in Ashland, according to arborist Casey Roland.
I was fascinated with the “design” of the tree. In my photo below, I tried to capture a sense of the vibrancy of all those upright branches bursting out of the lower trunk.
I hope you have enjoyed exploring more of the Fordyce neighborhood with me. As we continue to walk, I can’t guarantee you more murals on the local fences, but I’m sure we will find more creativity and beauty.
If you enjoy art, please read my photo essay about the large, colorful murals on Fordyce Street
Fence murals? Yes! (Learn about the artists) Yard art? Yes! 43 photos! Ashland Neighborhood Art series.
“There’s a 25’ long multi-colored Jellyfish on Fordyce Street!” That’s the email message I got from a friend who reads my Walk Ashland articles. No, we don’t have a new aquarium on Fordyce Street, but we do have a jellyfish. My friend proved it to me with attached photos. Here’s one for you.
When I went to Fordyce Street to investigate, what I found surprised me.
Art and Community
I have recently been writing many articles about art in Ashland. The Fordyce Street mural artists with whom I spoke believe in the power of visual art to elicit smiles, to bring people together, even to change lives for the better. They believe, as I do, that art within the community is important. Going to an art museum is a rare experience for most people, and a “never” experience for many. On the other hand, driving or bicycling or walking around our community is an everyday experience for almost everyone.
Artist J. Mike Kuhn echoed what I have heard from many other Ashland artists, when he told me: “It’s so cool how we can connect and inspire others. I may never get to meet some of the people that I inspire, but I think it’s interesting that you can really do that.”
Not just one fence mural
I found the 25’ jellyfish; it’s a mural painted on a fence. It is hard to miss! Then I started walking around the neighborhood and pretty soon I had a photographic collection of not two, not three, but six colorful fence murals, along with creative yard art and other beautiful sights.
As I was walking back to my car, I stopped to look once again at the longest fence mural of all. This was at 573 Fordyce Street. At that moment, in a small example of the “WalkAshland serendipity” I experience again and again, the homeowner Peter Paul Montague and his daughter came out of their front door. As they were about to get in their car, I said “Hello” and introduced myself. I asked him if he knew who painted the mural on his fence, and he replied, “I did.” He was on his way to pick up another child, so we agreed to meet another time for an interview. Before I tell you about the artists, here are some other highlights of Fordyce Street.
Let’s begin our Fordyce Street walk at the corner of East Main Street
At its south end, Fordyce Street meets East Main Street. To the north, it ends after about six blocks at private property that overlooks and extends to Bear Creek. If you want to reach a trail to North Mountain Park from here, turn left on Munson Drive, right onto Village Square Drive, and keep an eye out for the trail that leads into the park.
Ashland as a mill town?
As I started my walk, I met Denise, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1980. She described Fordyce Street of that time as a gravel road with only six or seven houses along it. She remembers a sawmill wigwam burner still present in the neighborhood, a magnet for young boys to play in, though the sawmills had all closed. In the photo below, you can see a wigwam burner in the background that was at another sawmill just a couple blocks away.
Most people who have moved to Ashland during the past 40 years don’t know that Ashland was a mill town not so long ago. There were at least nine sawmills operating here during the mid-20th century.
The Oregon Sawmill site was along Fordyce Street from 1956 to 1967. Lithia Lumber Mill had been located two blocks away, where the Ashland Police Station is now, from the 1940s to the 1960s. A third sawmill called Workman Mill was across East Main Street from the early 1950s to early 1960s. Now you know why the college student housing located at its former site is called Old Mill Village.
Creative art along Fordyce Street
In addition to beautiful murals, I found other creative and interesting art to share on our walk from the south end to the north end of Fordyce Street.
Right across the street from this metal and wood gate is a colorful gate painted by Peter Paul Montague, who also painted the fence on both sides of the gate.
This house at 540 Fordyce Street has several creative artworks that I stopped to admire.
Introducing the mural artists
Peter Paul Montague painted five geometric murals. J. Mike Kuhn painted the dramatic jellyfish mural. I interviewed both Peter Paul Montague and J. Mike Kuhn so I could do justice to their artwork and their artistic stories.
Peter Paul Montague’s artistic background
Before Montague entered his current profession of nursing, he supported himself for many years as a craft artisan, batiking on organic cotton clothing.
He had played with paints as a child, but didn’t get serious about art until after graduating from college with a degree in Sociology. During a one month hiking trip in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he learned about batik art from a friend who had trained in Kenya. Spending a summer travelling with his friend, Montague learned the basics of the East-African Batik tradition. Montague would spend the next 14 years making and selling Batik clothing as Nakupenda Batik. He focused on sustainable practices, using only organic cotton clothing, beeswax, and specializing in natural indigo dye.
Made from the Indigo plant, this natural dye has been used for thousands of years. Note however that blue jeans and most other indigo dyed clothing are now made from synthetic indigo dye. Montague’s largest batik art was a 9′ by 9′ wall hanging, but what put food on his table for many years was his batik clothing.
“Philadelphia, where I grew up, is full of public art.”
Peter Paul Montague
“I grew up with public art,” he told me. His hometown of Philadelphia is known as the City of Murals. According to their website, “Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program, dedicated to the belief that art ignites change. Mural Arts has created over 4,000 works of public art through innovative collaborations with community-based organizations, city agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, the private sector, and philanthropies.”
He was inspired and influenced by…
When I walked Fordyce Street with Peter Paul Montague, he told me the names of two artists who influenced his mural painting style. Sol LeWitt inspired him to experiment with bold colors and geometric designs on large “canvases” (such as fences). Isaiah Zagar, mosaic artist in the Philadelphia South Street neighborhood, inspired him to be imaginative.
Here’s an example of one of LeWitt’s large pieces.
Here’s a peek at Zagar’s mosaic work in Philadelphia.
Peter Paul Montague’s murals and process
“My goal is for people to feel movement when they view the paintings, even though they are static.”
Peter Paul Montague
The first fence he painted was his long fence along Kirk Lane, with a boldness and color palette inspired by Sol LeWitt’s work. The long fence provided 60′ to work with. He created outlines for the curves using string and a pivot point, and filled in the outlines with high quality wood stains to provide color.
His property has a LOT of fence, and his second painting was done on a continuation of the first long painted fence. In this one, he got more creative with his shapes and chose a theme of “circle and waves” for the mural.
A neighbor volunteered his fence for Montague’s third fence painting. This attractive art has a new theme: “rivers and mountains.” You’ll notice a variety of blues and greens for the flowing river and browns and reds for the stylized mountains.
Montague shared some of his in-process design and painting photos with me. It is fascinating to see glimpses of how it was created.
Another neighbor liked the designs so much that they asked if he would collaborate with them to create a design for their fence. The result has a theme of “interlocking circles.” Notice how each band of color changes as it moves from one circle to the next. That really impressed me.
Finally, there is a smaller design in Montague’s front yard. He called it a “color study,” since he experimented with color blending by using a second, dry brush to create subtle gradations of color.
Jellyfish mural by J. Mike Kuhn
It’s not often that one sees a 25’ long jellyfish in Ashland. Unless of course you live in the Fordyce Street neighborhood! This fence mural was painted by local artist and graphic designer J. Mike Kuhn in 2020.
“I thought it would be cool to donate a more permanent mural to the town. A lot of my other work has been painting murals on vehicles, 13 or 14 since I moved to Ashland.”
J. Mike Kuhn
Why a jellyfish?
Kuhn grew up in New Jersey, where he would spend summers at the Jersey Shore. If you spend time on his website, you will see the themes of ocean and wave and flow. You will see many colorful artistic versions of the creatures who live under the waves.
His brand name is FEEESH, a play on words. Playful yet serious.
Mike told me that FEEESH stands for “Forever Energetically Entering Endeavors Spreading Happiness.”
How many people are able to capture in six words not only their approach to art, but also their aspiration for a life well lived and their desire to uplift others in the community? I gained a tremendous respect for this young man when I took a few minutes to consider seriously his eccentric brand name.
Making the jellyfish mural
Kuhn described many layers of meaning in the design and execution of this jellyfish. With bamboo growing behind the fence, he wanted the light green base of the mural to emulate and blend with the ever-changing greens of bamboo leaves reflecting the sun. In addition, the flowing jellyfish blends with the flowing nature of bamboo moving in the wind.
A deeper conceptual thought embodied in the mural was inspired by Xavi, a mural artist Kuhn worked with and learned from in 2019 (see more about Xavi below). Kuhn sees the jellyfish coming out of tumultuous times, as expressed in the color selection and design on the left end of the mural, and going in to a calmer area.
On the first day, he painted the entire background. The larger light green section received one coat to age faster and the multiple hue section was double coated to endure longer. On the second day, he painted the jellyfish using mostly darker tones of spray paint in order to last longer against sun fading and to offer stronger contrast.
From the beginning, he thought about the life of the mural. He pointed out how light moves across the mural throughout each day. It gets full sun in the morning, then partial sun, then full shade late afternoon. Because of the full sun, he expects the light green paint to fade more quickly than the spray paint. Over time, the wood’s natural grain will begin to show through the light green paint around the jellyfish, and the relationship of the jellyfish to the fence will gradually change. Seeing the wood’s natural grain in this mural will also reference the nearby murals by Peter Paul Montague, who used stain colors that allow the underlying wood grain to become part of the design.
Here is an artist’s detail I would not have noticed. The gray color in the jellyfish is actually chrome spray paint, not gray. Chrome is basically a gray color, but it reflects more sunshine to add a bit of shimmer on sunny mornings. As the day goes on, it becomes a normal flat gray color.
The neighborhood mural artists meet
As Kuhn was working on his jellyfish mural, Montague (who lives a block away) stopped by to watch and talk. Kuhn appreciated this, and added, “I was lucky enough to give him a compliment in person, since I love his pieces. I think they’re beautifully sophisticated and so well executed. I thought I had to do a good job just to do justice to his work.”
I asked Kuhn, “When did you become an artist?”
“That police officer is one of the reasons I am now a professional artist!”
J. Mike Kuhn
“I’ve been creating with paints or Legos since before I knew it was a thing,” he replied. “When I was in high school, I had a legal issue because some friends and I painted the entire inside of a large warehouse [illegally]. During a terrifying interrogation, a police officer’s advice to me was that I had talent and I was wasting my time breaking into places doing art for free. I should go to school for this. At the time, I was planning to go to college for chemistry, since I was fascinated with science. That police officer is one of the reasons I am now a professional artist!”
After high school, Kuhn went to a local community college for graphic design. He followed up by attending and graduating from an intensely competitive arts college in Manhattan, the School of Visual Arts. Exceptionally artistic students from all across the world go there to study advertising, design, fine arts and more.
He has done hundreds of patterns as a graphic artist working for companies as well as working on his own. He creates patterns and designs art for hammocks, chairs, t-shirts, shoes and more.
He was inspired and influenced by…
“Have an intention behind each stroke.”
Internationally known, local mural artist Xavi Panneton took nine months to paint the entire exterior of the Kids Unlimited building in Medford during 2019. While assisting Panneton with the main entrance area, Kuhn was deeply influenced by Panneton’s art and his mentoring.
“Working with him for a couple months was unbelievable. I remember asking him about my work at the time. He said, ‘Your studio work looks like you’re doing it illegally [rushed].’ Xavi was the one who taught me to slow down. He gave me the most amazing line: ‘Have an intention behind each stroke.’ Now with my paintings I try to think about the color interactions. He even influenced how I speak about my work.”
Cannabis aficionado, food lover, BMX rider
Kuhn came originally to Southern Oregon to work a few months during the marijuana harvest season, which provided some income to help him focus on art the rest of the year. While here, he began to make friends with people who were creating art and supporting art. I was surprised when he told me why he decided to move here. “The reason I really stayed and moved here was the food. The food in this area is exceptional. You can’t go to a food store in New Jersey and get what you can at the Food Coop. Between the agricultural diversity and the natural beauty of this area, I couldn’t resist moving here.”
He added: “I’m also a BMX rider, so I really enjoy the skate parks in this area. It’s kind of a unique thing in the country that Oregon has such large skate parks. You couldn’t legally build a skate park like you have in Oregon in New Jersey, because of insurance laws. For me, it’s a treat to be able to ride these big cement sculptures, basically. That’s actually where I’ve met at least half of the owners of buses I have painted.”
“I was 25 when I first saw the Milky Way. In New Jersey you can count the stars. Now seeing the Milky Way most nights blows my mind. To me, it’s such a treat.”
J. Mike Kuhn
When he gets homesick
Most of Kuhn’s family still lives in New Jersey. He gets homesick for them sometimes. I laughed when he told me what he does. “I go to Jersey Mike’s when I’m feeling homesick, because the photos in the Jersey Mike’s shop are of my mom’s neighborhood.”
Art in the Ashland economy
Large gatherings in Ashland have been shut down for nearly a year as this article is being written. With no clear end in sight, there has been much discussion about how to diversify Ashland’s economy to depend less on the economic power of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). It’s not a matter of “instead of OSF,” since I believe we will always have OSF here. It is definitely a matter of “in addition to OSF.”
Artist J. Mike Kuhn put it to me this way. “I think personally the town needs to invest more in visual arts. In times of fire and other awful situations [like COVID-19], you can’t always have performance art, but visual arts will always stand. A mural is still enjoyable in the smoke, or when people are limited to walking around their neighborhood.”
He expanded his vision of the impact of visual arts to include not only tourists, but also the children who grow up here. “I see this town as developing into even more of an arts community. If we did more street murals and things like that, I think it would be a great space for children to grow up. I try to inspire kids with the idea that you can do something cool. You can change your community.”
Finally, why the name Fordyce Street?
Usually I have no idea why a street was given its particular name. In the case of Fordyce Street, we have a story from a man who wrote a booklet in 1951 about Ashland street names. According to the author Henry C. Galey, he named Fordyce St. in memory of Asa G. Fordyce, who came to Ashland with his family in 1853. Fordyce got a 320 acre donation land claim along Bear Creek, including what is now North Mountain Park and the Fordyce Street neighborhood. Fordyce sold his land to Frank Carter in the late 1880s and it became part of the Carter Land Company cattle operation.
Asa Fordyce was well respected in the community. As evidence, here is a story about the first elected school board in Ashland. School classes were first taught in Ashland in 1854 at Eber Emery’s house, with Miss Lizzie Anderson the teacher. This informal arrangement continued until April 3, 1857, when the small community held a meeting to elect three school directors and a clerk for the just-formed Jackson County School District No. 5. John P. Walker (for whom Walker School and Walker Street are named) was chosen, along with Asa G. Fordyce and Bennett Million, while Robert B. Hargadine was the clerk.
If you would like to learn how a three-year-old was responsible for the creation of School District No. 5 in 1857, please read this article.
I hope you have enjoyed my article about Fordyce Street and its beautiful murals. If you would like to read other articles about artwork in Ashland, here are a couple of suggestions.
45 photos of 7 utility boxes! Outdoor painting on hot July days. Public Arts Commission at work. Ashland Public Art series.
Have you noticed the bright, colorful utility boxes around town? I love the way these gray metal boxes have been transformed into colorful works of art. This article will feature mostly photographs, including fun “before and after” photos of the utility boxes.
In 2009, after consultation with the City utility department, the Public Arts Commission (PAC) invited artists to submit designs for paintings on seven utility boxes in and near the Railroad District area. PAC’s Call for Entries document stated in part: “The theme for Phase 1 of this project is Reflections of Ashland. Artists are invited to submit designs that are suitable to the theme of Reflections of Ashland. These may include but are not limited to designs that reflect Ashland’s natural beauty, cultural offerings, history and distinctive charm.”
Artists were required to submit a two dimensional representation of what their design would look like on the three dimensional utility box. As an example, artist Zelpha Hutton submitted the design below. PAC chose six artists to paint the first seven utility boxes.
When the Public Arts Commission was created in 2003, it began with lofty ideals and no consistent funding source. Money was still tight in 2009, so funding had to be found for the utility box project. A Mail Tribune article described the supporters of this project. “In addition to support from the city government and Ashland Public Arts Commission, the utility box project was made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition and donations of paint and services from Miller Paint Co., The Party Place and Meyers Painting.”
Following this map, you can create your own Art Walk of these first seven painted utility boxes. Follow along as you read this article on your mobile phone, or get some fresh air on a sunny day after you have read it.
Box 1: North Second Street (“Dogs and Bikes”)
The first box on the map is located on North Second Street near East Main Street, in front of the entrance to U.S. Bank. Zelpha Hutton is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Dogs and Bikes.”
Hutton was an art teacher and owner of Paisley Yarn Shop in Ashland for many years. According to the Mail Tribune, the design came to her “when she noticed several dogs tied up at the nearby Agave restaurant while their owners dined. A bicycle was also outside. The scene — often repeated at cafés all around town — inspired Hutton to create a playful design featuring dogs tied to a table with a bowl of water and a bicycle nearby. The utility box she painted is in front of U.S. Bank on Second Street.”
I’ll begin with the before and after photo, share two more photos taken in 2009, and then add three that I took in January 2021.
Box 2: North Second Street (“Poppies”)
The second box on the map is located on North Second Street near Lithia Way, in front of Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth. Kathleen Taylor is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Poppies.” This photo collection also includes the before and after photo, two more photos taken in 2009, and then three that I took in January 2021.
Along with Taylor’s poppy flower design submittal, she wrote, “I am inspired by the beautiful springtime flower here in Ashland.”
Box 3: Lithia Way (“Mountains and Trees”)
The third box on the map is located on Lithia Way at the west end of C Street. Pokey McFarland is the artist, and his title for the artwork is “Mountains and Trees.” The theme was a natural for the artist, since McFarland was a hiker, trail runner, mountain biker and skier.
When McFarland submitted his design for the utility box to PAC, he wrote: “I feel that Ashland is a unique area, naturally beautiful and hidden in among mountains and forests. I feel many come here for that isolated feeling. The natural beauty here is one of a kind, wonderful! When I reflect on Ashland, I think mountains, trees, rivers, natures’ beauty…”
In a 2011 article, the Ashland Tidings said, “McFarland previously was one of the winners of a city contest to paint drab utility boxes in colorful designs. He also makes posters for bands and music festivals, designs T-shirts and does art projects for businesses.
A staff member at the Lithia Springs Boys Home, he likes to take troubled youngsters out into nature. They sometimes team with Ashland Parks and Recreation Department workers on projects.”
Below you’ll find the before and after photo, one more photo taken in 2009 as the box was being painted, and then two that I took in January 2021.
Box 4: Oak Street (no longer painted)
Box 4 was located on Oak Street in front of the Recology Ashland office. Sadly, it is no longer there. The utility box was replaced and not repainted. Here is a photo showing how the box, painted by Kathleen Taylor, looked in 2009, and a 2021 photo showing how it looks now.
Box 5: Oak Street (“Ashland Activities”)
Box 5 is located on Oak Street near the Old Ashland Armory. Judy Bryant is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Ashland Activities.” This painting is full of detail. After the two photos from 2009, I included a number of close-up photos taken in 2021 to show some of that detail.
With Bryant’s design submittal, she wrote, “When I was giving thought to a design for Reflections of Ashland I kept thinking of all the activities we as locals get to enjoy right outside our front doors any day of the year.”
Box 6: A Street (“Clouds and Grapes”)
Box 6 is located on A Street near the Ashland Food Coop. Adrienne Bailin is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Clouds and Grapes.”
Box 7: A Street (“Return of the Swans”)
Box 7 is located on A Street near Fourth Street. Ann DiSalvo is the artist, and her title for the artwork is “Return of the Swans.” I interviewed DiSalvo, so I’ll share a little of her experience painting the utility box and some of her insights about public art. I found out that she also painted three other utility boxes around town between 2010 and 2016, so you’ll see her name come up in future articles.
DiSalvo got her degree in art at the University of Wisconsin, and has worked as an artist most of her professional life. Since moving to Ashland in the early 1990s, she has been active in the Ashland Gallery Association, including editing their annual Gallery Guide for more than 15 years.
Hot, hot, hot
She remembers the July days in 2009, when painting was done, as extremely hot. PAC rented canopies for the artists to work under, which helped a bit. The artists picked up their paint supplies (exterior acrylic paint from Miller Paints) the first morning in the Elks Club parking lot and headed for their individual utility boxes. Each box had been thoroughly cleaned by city staff in preparation for painting. Later, after artists finished their painting, city staff added a UV clear coat to prolong the life of the outdoor artwork.
DiSalvo described the challenge of working with the outdoor acrylic paint under these conditions. “Because of the heat, the acrylic paint would dry so quickly. In under a minute it would be dry, and my brushes would be caked with paint because it was drying on the brush. The metal was so hot [in the afternoon] that when the paint hit the metal, it would be stiff within seconds, and it was hard to make a good flowing stroke. It wasn’t so bad in the morning.” She added that utility box painting in subsequent years was done in the spring or fall to avoid these hot summer temperatures.
The value of public art
Ann expressed one of the benefits of creating public art on site – community members get to interact with an artist at work. “A Street is a pretty busy pedestrian street in the summer. A lot of people came by and commented, and that was nice. In addition, a neighbor brought me a cup of iced lemonade while I was painting.”
Regarding the value of public art, she added: “When I go to another city and I see their public art, it really speaks to me of what they consider valuable. Public art shows the imagination and care the community has, not just for residents but for visitors too. There is a sense of humor in much of it. If a city were a person, this would be its facial expression.” She also believes that public art, because it is visible, inspires other artists to want to live in that community. “They feel like they belong in a city that loves art.”
In addition to visual arts like sculpture and murals, I would extend Ann’s thought to include theater art, music, dance and other creative endeavors. All of these art forms, especially theater, currently attract people to both visit and live in Ashland. I think expanding public art in Ashland, because it is both very visible and freely accessible, would be one way to build our community’s economic engine.
Photos for box seven will begin with Ann’s design for the box, followed by two photos from 2009 and four that I took in January 2021.
More utility boxes
I hope you enjoyed this “walk” around the Railroad District to visit the first group of painted utility boxes sponsored by Ashland’s Public Arts Commission. Quite a few more have been painted since 2009. I will visit more in another article.
Mickey Mouse. Mosaic rock designs. “Science is Real” signs.
I found Mickey on Old Willow Lane
This lawn art was a fun surprise on my short walk. I almost walked right by it, because I wasn’t looking down at the grass. I have learned: When I am “walking Ashland,” look everywhere! You never know what you will find.
What I did not find was an “old willow.” If I missed it, someone please tell me where it is.
To find Old Willow Lane, take East Main Street to Fordyce Street. Heading north on Fordyce, Old Willow Lane will be the fifth street on your left. Here’s what it looks like from Fordyce Street. I was happy to find it filled with interesting sights in its one block length. At the end of the street is a large open field. I expect Old Willow Lane will be much longer someday when that field is developed for housing.
Big truck on small street
As I walked the street in October 2020, the first thing that caught my eye was a truck filled with prefab roof trusses. The truck was delivering to a house under construction near the end of the street.
As you can see from the photos, Old Willow Lane is lined with street trees. The truck driver faced a challenge – how to lift the trusses to the house construction site without damaging any street trees. Before I finished walking the street, he had figured it out. His first roof truss lift is shown in the photo below.
Signs of the times
I keep my eye out for yard signs as I walk Ashland’s neighborhoods. Many are copies of the same popular signs. Sometimes I find a sign that is home made and unique. This house has a combination of both kinds of “Science is Real” signs.
Yard art variety
Ashland is full of creative people. Some show and share their creativity in front yard art. This is a good reason to have a camera at the ready on your walks. Old Willow Lane is especially rich in yard art for being only one block long.
You won’t miss this one if you are walking on the sidewalk. It is mosaic art, all done with colored pebbles. Each of the three designs is subtle, balanced and beautiful. Below are close-up photos of the three designs.
I did a double-take as I approached 1269 Old Willow Lane. I have seen many Canada geese flying over town and I was momentarily fooled.
I love this metal art and stone front yard at the end of the street.
Gate and tree
I found one unique and interesting gate on Old Willow Lane. I haven’t noticed a metal gate like this before.
One massive tree caught my eye and seemed worth sharing with you.
End of street
There is a large field at the end of Old Willow Lane. All I see there is an unusual small barn (pictured). It will be interesting to see what kind of housing develops here in the future.
I noticed a short path at the end of the street, so of course I followed it to see where it leads. It is a pedestrian shortcut to Village Park Drive and another neighborhood.
Walking the short path, one sight caught my eye. Rough, wavy, golden wood grain, black knothole, delicate pink flower on a slender stem, all adds up to a photographer’s dream. Here it is for you.
Old Willow Lane is one of many short, quiet streets off Fordyce Street. I will have an exciting article about Fordyce Street for you soon.
Dramatic trumpet vine at 66 Alida Writer of Westerns at 81 Alida The scissors that moved by themselves at 92 Alida Beautiful mural at 107 Alida “Lord of the Rings” connection at 180 Alida Plus 40 photos Ashland Neighborhood Art series
I thought to myself, “It’s only two blocks long. This will be a quick, easy article to write.” Boy was I wrong. I was surprised by the stories I discovered and which I can now share with you.
Alida Street is situated between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street in one of the older parts of Ashland, within the boundaries of the Siskiyou-Hargadine historic district. Residents of Alida Street have a neighborhood coffee shop, with the Rogue Valley Roasting Company around the corner on East Main Street.
Let’s begin our two-block stroll
Let’s begin our two-block stroll with a small 1933 cottage style house at 46 Alida Street, near East Main Street. According to the National Register of Historic Places, this house is “an example of the small rental volumes that typify much of the infill development in the district prior to World War II.” It looks beautifully renovated at some point in recent years.
Across the street is the Woodland Park Estates apartments. This large apartment complex provides much needed housing for single people and couples.
Southern Pacific Railroad engineer
60 Alida Street was built about 1902 for Judd V. Miller, an engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The original architecture was an L-shaped farmhouse style, but large additions through the years have changed the historic character of this house as well. I do like the attractive new front entry, though it’s not quite large enough to be a comfortable front porch with two or three chairs.
The 1908 Henry Boyd House at 63 Alida Street retains its simple, historic hipped-roof cottage architectural style. Henry Boyd was a local photographer. He and his wife Nettie lived here until 1923.
A dramatic trumpet vine caught my eye at 66 Alida Street. The house was built in 1941 in the Cape Cod, Colonial Revival style. As I walked and took photos in July 2020, the trumpet vine was in glorious full bloom, covered with large bright red flowers.
Trumpet vines (also called trumpet creeper) have high points and drawbacks. Among the high points, the large bright flowers continue to bloom all summer and they are a magnet for hummingbirds.
Trumpet vine trunks have their own harsh beauty. The trumpet vine at 66 Alida shows how beautiful the gnarled trunk of the vine gets as it ages. This one even provides a level spot for displaying Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity of beginnings, also known as the remover of obstacles.
As one website put it, trumpet vine is “A high-climbing, aggressively colonizing woody vine to 35 ft., climbing or scrambling over everything in its path by aerial rootlets.” Depending on its location, this can be a big drawback. Some varieties send out below-ground runners and self-seed nearby, so they can take a lot of care to keep in check. The beautiful, gnarled trunk can also be a drawback as the plant gets older and larger. Moral of the story: be careful where you plant a trumpet vine and keep it under control, so that you can enjoy it. This old trumpet vine is an example of one that has been pruned regularly and kept under control.
George Anderson houses
George Anderson was a clerk with the Warner Mercantile Company. I found a Warner Mercantile ad in the 1916 Ashland Tidings, but it doesn’t give much insight into what the company sold or where it was located. Anderson had two houses built on Alida Street, both in 1910.
Anderson lived at 76 Alida in a simple hipped-roof cottage. The large rear addition and plate glass windows in front have changed the house considerably, but one can still see the basic character of the 1910 house in the small front section.
Anderson bought property across the street and had 75 Alida built as a rental house. The National Register document calls it “a fine single-story gabled bungalow with a projecting gable porch.” I keep an eye out for Little Free Libraries around town. You’ll find an attractive one in the planting strip at 75 Alida Street.
Writer of Western stories and novels lived here
William Verne Athanas, who lived at 81 Alida Street, was known as a writer of cowboy fiction, but he came from a rich Greek heritage. He was the son of Panagiotis “Peter” Konstantinos Athanassopoulos, who had been born in Greece in 1890. The family moved to Ashland when Verne was a child. In 1936, he graduated from Ashland High School and married his childhood sweetheart Alice Spencer – a big year!
Marrying Alice Spencer made him the uncle of Julia Woosnam, who grew up across the street at 92 Alida Street and told me his story. Between high school and becoming a full-time writer ten years later, “he slopped hogs, dug postholes, drove trucks, was a railroad brakeman, a gandy dancer, a service station attendant, a stationery salesman and more.” [Archives West]
Once he began writing, he specialized in cowboy fiction, and he was prolific. Athanas has 28 short stories listed in the “Western and Frontier Fiction Magazine Index.” He also wrote for mainstream magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. He published three novels, including The Proud Ones that was made into a movie released in 1956. He also wrote scripts for TV westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Because he wrote under four pseudonyms in addition to his own name, I haven’t been able to track down exactly what and how much he wrote.
The oldest house on Alida Street
Built in 1890 or 1891, 84 Alida is the oldest house on the street. It is described as “a fine multiple gable volume set upon a high concrete foundation. The porch at the NW corner is notable for its early-appearing chinoiserie balustrade.”
Early Ashlanders, ghost tales and more
The 1920 single story bungalow at 92 Alida Street still has much of its original detailing. Julia Woosnam, who grew up in this house in the 1950s and 1960s, told me stories and shared photos with me. She comes from an old Ashland family. Her grandfather Don Spencer was Ashland’s first postal mail carrier, starting in about 1910. Before that, everyone had to pick up their mail at the post office on the Plaza.
Julia’s father Lawrence Powell and mother Altadena Spencer married in 1929. The couple raised a family and lived at 92 Alida Street for more than 40 years.
Two months before Julia was born in 1954, her father planted a maple tree for her in front of their house at 92 Alida Street. Here is the tiny stick that was to become a tree. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)
Her father took this photo of Julia with “her tree” when she was almost two years old. The maple tree “stick” is a little taller. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)
Here is “Julia’s tree” in front of 92 Alida Street in 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ghostly personal experiences
“Growing up there, you would just have a sense of somebody else hanging out” in the house, Julia told me. The front bedroom, with a window overlooking the porch as seen in the photo below, was hers growing up.
“The front bedroom was my room, and things would slide around in that room. I had a couple of friends in high school, laughing and giggling in there with me when we were best buddies, and a pair of scissors slid across the bureau. One of those friends said, ‘I am not staying in your room again.'”
Intrigued because scissors seem rather large to move on their own, I asked Julia about them. She replied, “I have them upstairs. They were my mother’s really nice dress-making shears.” Of course I said, “May I take a photo of them?” So Julia went and got what she laughingly called “the now famous flying scissors,” and here they are. I held them, and I can tell you they are heavy.
Then there was the moving toilet paper. “The toilet paper roll would just spontaneously, slowly start to unroll, then it would go faster, faster, faster, faster, faster, faster until it pretty much emptied the roll. That was seen by several friends.”
“It got to be really mean,” Julia added, laughing. “Someone would go in the bathroom and we would all wait, just to see if it would happen. I had my best friend, who lived in the oldest house [on Alida Street] across the driveway from us, and she went into the bathroom — and I remember my mom and I tippy-toeing down the hallway, waiting — and pretty soon she screams, and she comes running out of the bathroom, just sobbing — and it was the toilet paper had started to unroll before she could even get near it to use it. These things just happened — for whatever reasons, they do happen.”
Another occurrence experienced by many people through the years was a loud thump, with no discernible cause, as if a large ball was being thrown against the wall. “My good friend Ann called it ‘the boulder.’ So we always referred to that sound as being ‘the boulder.’ It was definitely like someone had taken a soccer ball and thrown it hard against the outside of the house.”
100 Alida Street
The house next door at 100 Alida Street was built in 1939 with an English Cottage style architecture unusual in Ashland. “A one and one-half story period revival structure, the Ruger House is a gable volume with a projecting gable entry element.”
The creative gate combines wood, metal and vines for an attractive entry to the yard.
Art for the neighborhood to enjoy
The house at 107 Alida was built in 1925 for local banker Gerald Wenner and his wife Grace. The couple lived here for nearly 50 years, until they died in the early 1970s. A simple bungalow style, it still has many of the original 1925 features.
Before and After at 107 Alida Street
The bright mural on the side of this house is quite new. Katherine emailed me that the mural at her house was painted by two friends, Amy and Glenn, who visited her from the San Francisco Bay Area in June. Her friend Amy added, “Visiting in a pandemic, we wanted a safe way to socialize and create something beautiful for our friend Katherine. We hope that more public art soothes the soul during these transformative times.” Seeing this mural certainly lifted my spirits, and I recommend that you see it when you are in the neighborhood.
The mural creation at 107 Alida Street
I wondered how this unusual group of flowers was designed. It turned out to be a simple but surprising reason. See the photo and caption below.
I will add that Amy Pete is a somatic bodyworker and Glenn Case is a muralist and sign maker, both living in the Bay Area.
Another SP worker, and unusual yard art
Southern Pacific Railroad worker Henry Mayberry and his wife Myrtle had 140 Alida Street built for them about 1924. The house retains much of its historic look. The artistic garden fence and yard art are both very modern. For example, having a Buddha-like statue and a gnome sharing the yard is very 21st century.
Ashland High School 2020 graduate
Ashland High School’s class of 2020 was not able to have an in-person graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus. On May 26, I noticed a forest of signs placed along Siskiyou Boulevard in front of the high school. I was moved as I saw this creative way of recognizing each 2020 graduate individually.
Since then, I have seen “2020 GRAD” signs in front of several houses around Ashland. 145 Alida Street is one of them. This post-World War II era cottage, built in 1945, is “a fine example of its type.” The National Register describes it as “a series of connected hip roof volumes with wide board siding and numerous windows. A large brick chimney dominates the streetscape and a matching hipped-roof garage is located at the rear of the lot.”
Another, smaller apartment complex is at 160-162 Alida Street. Built in 1966, I think it is called the Collins Court apartments.
A “fine Queen Anne ell”
172 Alida Street was built as a rental house by Jacob Thompson around 1900. Architecturally, it is a “fine Queen Anne ell with canted corner on each of two projecting gables, framed below a pent roof line and a shingle-decorated gable end.”
Thompson owned much of the land in this part of Miner’s addition. An interesting aside is that in 1910, he transferred this property to a company co-owned by Thompson and his partner Gwin Butler. You may recognize the name Butler from the Butler-Perozzi Fountain or the Butler bandshell in Lithia Park. Gwin Butler’s contributions to Ashland deserve a full article.
Creative hobbit lovers
180 Alida Street is a 1926 single story bungalow style house. This house could get an award for creative use of a tree stump. What got me excited, however, was spotting the sign on their gate that says, “Say Friend and Enter” in both English and Elvish. If you have read Lord of the Rings or seen the movies several times, you might recognize that saying as the inscription that puzzled Gandalf at the gate of Moria.
I have been a fan of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien since I was a teenager – which was many years ago! Early this year, I just finished reading the 1,086 page book (1,190 with appendices) for about the tenth time, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time.
The 1901 Frank Nelson house
188 Alida Street was built for Frank Nelson in 1901, and he lived there until 1919. The style is a simple one and one-half story hipped-roof cottage. Nelson was a partner in the longtime Ashland grocery business Loomis and Nelson, which served the Railroad District at the corner of 4th Street and B Street.
We have now reached Siskiyou Boulevard, so this wraps up our walk along Alida Street.
Note that two people who built houses on Alida Street worked for Southern Pacific Railroad. See below for a link to my article about the impact of the railroad on Ashland.
Unidentified quotes are from: National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002.
* 23 Homes more than 100 years old! * Oregon history comes alive at 531 Scenic Drive. * 30 Photos. * Garden of the Month, April 2020. * Tree of the Year 2004. * Modern architecture, and more.
I walked Scenic Drive wearing a mask in April of 2020, when the people of Ashland and the entire State of Oregon were being asked to “Stay Home, Save Lives” in order to slow the spread of the pandemic coronavirus. Going for walks was acceptable, as long as we didn’t gather in groups of people.
I began at the “beginning” of Scenic Drive, where it meets Strawberry Lane, and where the first house number is 5 Scenic Drive.
I was drawn to Scenic Drive this month for two reasons. My first motivation was the Ashland Garden Club’s Garden of the Month for April, located at 467 Scenic Drive. In addition, I counted 23 homes on Scenic Drive more than 100 years old, built between 1880 and 1915. I know WalkAshland readers love the local history I learn and share here, so be prepared for plenty of history, gardens and architecture in this article.
Old Ashland maps show part of Scenic Drive was originally called Woolen Street, named for Mr. Woolen, who subdivided his farm acreage here to create land for houses.
Before we explore historic houses, let’s start with the modern houses at this end of Scenic Drive. The first house that caught my eye was also the first house number. I spoke with a neighbor, who told me two architects live in and designed this house.
I spoke with Greg at 39 Scenic Drive. He built much of this attractive 1988 house himself. What really makes the house stand out is the moose antlers mounted on an outside wall. How often do you see moose antlers on the outside of a house? As for me, never before this. Greg told me he purchased the antlers in Alaska from someone who makes spending money by finding places where moose shed their antlers in the winter. I learned something new that day.
I also met the owner of the log cabin at 35 Scenic Drive. I think I got lucky meeting Scenic Drive neighbors out in their front yards because the day I walked was the warmest, sunniest day of the week. You can see from the house photo that it is made of round logs. This is different log-house construction than one I saw – and learned about – on Westwood Drive. You can read about the Westwood Drive log house made with tongue-in-groove D-logs at https://walkashland.com/2019/07/19/westwood-street-log-house-and-eco-house/
This is a lovely, modern Swedish-chalet style house. A neighbor told me it was made using straw bale construction for the exterior walls.
Now let’s continue down Scenic Drive, looking mostly at a variety of historic houses. I won’t describe and show photos of every one of the 23 houses more than 100 years old along Scenic Drive. I will show houses that either caught my eye or have unusual stories to go with them, then I will list the other historic houses at the end of the article. I will also point out a few modern houses that struck me.
The Craftsman style house set above the street at 79 Scenic Drive was built in 1910 by R.L. Coombe. Born in the Australian island state of Tasmania in 1874, somehow he found his way to Ashland in 1910. That same year, he and his wife Florence built this new home.
Coombe was one of the leading plasterers in the Rogue Valley, specializing in interior plaster and exterior stucco work. Among the local buildings he worked on were the 1910 Emil and Alice Applegate Peil House and the 1912 Ashland Carnegie Library. You can see in the photo that 79 Scenic Drive has a stucco exterior.
The National Register description of the house says, “As might be expected the exterior of the house was clad in delicately colored stucco with highly detailed quoins and other details, a veritable tour de force of a master craftsman. Sadly, upon leaving Coombe family ownership this original material was painted, forever hiding the original design intent.”
95 Scenic Drive was built about 1915. I talked with current owner, who was working in her beautiful large garden. She told me the house was originally one story with a basement. In the 1970s, downstairs was made into a separate entry apartment. Orange aluminum siding was added to the exterior! Orange? Aluminum? To a historic house?
In 1997, the current owners did a renovation to remove the orange aluminum siding (yay!) and restore the upper story gable. Let me say now that there was one benefit of the aluminum siding. When it was removed, the original Victorian-style fish scale decorative shingles were in good condition on the gable. These shingles indicate that this 1915 house was a transitional architectural style between Victorian style and the new Craftsman style.
240 Scenic Drive was built in 1977, so it’s not a historic house; but in a sense it is historic. It is noteworthy because it was long the home of Lenn and Dixie Hannon. Lenn was a long-time Oregon State Senator, and Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library is named after him.
One of the oldest houses on Scenic Drive, the simple Vernacular style house at 345 Scenic Drive was built about 1886 by Lysander Sackett. The most notable owner of the house after that was H.C. Mecham. According to the Ashland Tidings of March 21, 1910, Mr. Mecham “recently invested in a home on Woolen Street” (the original name of Scenic) and also recently “purchased the planing mill from Carson-Fowler Lumber Company.” A planing mill took lumber that had been initially cut to size in a sawmill and finished it to meet the needs of different types of construction or furniture building.