Colorful flowers brighten a fence. East Main Street at Wightman Avenue. Ashland neighborhood art. Artist: Shea Cathey.
“Hope You Smile”
Between COVID-19 and wildfire smoke in the Rogue Valley, summer 2021 was a difficult one. We needed as many bright moments in our days as possible. This mural has been bringing smiles to faces and hearts since it was painted in June 2021. Whenever you drive, bicycle or walk along East Main Street, it is likely to brighten your day.
The colorful flowers were born from the vision of homeowner Jody Johnson and artist Shea Cathey. Their intention from the beginning was to uplift community members who pass by, which is why Shea named the mural “Hope You Smile.” As you can see from the quote above, they are succeeding. I had the pleasure of talking with both Jody and Shea.
The origin story
I asked Jody when she first envisioned the mural. She told me this story: “My husband Mark and I moved here three years ago. Both of us love color, the brighter the better. When we moved in, the fence was weather-beaten, gray, and falling apart. We had it shored up and stained.
“After moving here, I missed my friends. I started volunteering at the Senior Center, helping with lunches. That’s where I met Shea. She is wonderful, a really giving person, and very talented. I’m not sure Shea knows how talented she is. Shea was doing art lessons and projects with the senior citizens before COVID shut all that down. After they shut down lunches at the Senior Center, Shea and I stayed in touch.
“Mark and I walk this neighborhood a lot. A couple houses down that way [she pointed toward Fordyce Street] have painted their fences. We thought they were really creative. Once we ate at the Mexican restaurant [La Casa del Pueblo on Siskiyou Blvd.] and they had a beautiful mural on the wall. I was thinking: I wonder if I could find out who did it, because I think our fence would be the perfect place for a mural.”
Offer to the artist
Jody didn’t find out who painted the mural at La Casa del Pueblo, but she already knew a good artist. She continued her story: “When COVID hit, Shea wasn’t as busy as she was before. We were out to lunch one day, and I said to her, ‘Would you ever be interested in doing a mural on my fence?’ And she was like, ‘Sure, that sounds like fun.’ Then she asked, ‘What do you want painted?’ I said, ‘You are the person with the talent and the artistic ability. I just like color, so I want something with a lot of color.’ Based on that, she made a drawing for me – and I loved it!”
See a photo of the original drawing below.
Jody told me she thought of painting the inside of the fence, but she felt like that would be selfish. She wanted people to enjoy it as they drove by, and also to provide a colorful entrance to her Mill Pond neighborhood. Before painting could begin, she had to take the idea to the Mill Pond HOA (Home Owners Association) for approval. Almost everyone on the HOA board liked the drawing, so the mural was approved.
The humble artist
“I’m not sure Shea knows how talented she is.”
Shea Cathey grew up in a small Louisiana town. She has loved making art since early childhood. She took art classes in high school, and at 17 years of age one of her paintings was chosen for an exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York. When she got to college, she studied nursing and let her art go for a while.
I asked, “When did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?” Shea replied, “There’s still a part of me that feels like I am pretending, even when I am teaching art classes, because I didn’t get a degree in art.” On the related subject of selling her paintings, she said, “Painting and drawing are things I enjoy so much that I feel weird charging people for it. That’s something that I know I have to get over.”
Shea and her husband had lived all their lives in Louisiana. A combination of introspection and difficult life lessons led them to consider moving. They researched nationwide for a state with a good scope of practice for nurse practitioners (her husband’s profession), a small town with a university, an open-minded area that supports art and artists, and finally a good school system for their four children. Where did they end up? Right here in Ashland.
The humble artist as excellent teacher
“I enjoy teaching people art because people who say, ‘I’m not an artist, I can’t even draw a straight line,’ end up taking my course, really liking it, and being proud of themselves. That makes me so happy!”
Since moving to Ashland, Shea has taught art classes through the Senior Center and OLLI, as well as in Bellview School classrooms and private lessons. She told me, “Pre-pandemic, I taught a free art class at the Senior Center once a month, called something like ‘Art with Friends.’ That class was always full.” Since COVID shut down in-person classes, she has taken on the challenge of teaching art on Zoom. It still works, but is not quite as satisfying.
I was moved by Shea’s description of her deep emotional connection with her art students.
“I enjoy teaching people art because people who say, ‘I’m not an artist, I can’t even draw a straight line,’ end up taking my course, really liking it, and being proud of themselves. That makes me so happy! So it makes me feel weird charging them. It seems like an experience that everybody deserves.”
The grateful artist
“I have a really awesome circle of friends here in Ashland, that I never had in Louisiana.”
Shea is grateful that her family lives in Ashland, and that she can share her love of art with people here. Her appreciation of the Ashland community led her to say “Yes” to Jody’s offer.
Late May and early June, when painting took place, had many days with temperatures in the 90s. Hence the sunglasses when I stopped to talk with Shea and take her photo on June 1st, a 99-degree day. Sitting in front of the south-facing fence, she cared for her body by limiting painting to morning hours as much as possible.
The painting process, step by step
The small drawing Shea created for Jody, which you saw above, was the template she worked from. She was right at home painting a fence, for two reasons. First, I was surprised when she told me, during our interview, that almost all of her studio paintings have been done on wood rather than canvas. Second, she likes to paint big things. Whether a studio painting, a mural on a bedroom wall or on a fence, she is comfortable going big.
Painting begins with paint. Shea likes to mix her own paint colors. Normally, she only buys the three primary colors – red, yellow and blue – plus black and white. Then she mixes any other colors she needs from them.
The first step was sketching outlines on the fence of the flowers and leaves. Sadly, I missed taking a photo of that step.
“While she was painting, so many people stopped to tell her how they loved it – and they still do. Especially when the farmers market is happening across the street, I can’t tell you many people have told my husband and me, ‘That makes us feel so happy.'”
Next came filling in the outlines with white paint, which acted as primer on the fence.
Then came color – lots of color. Seen from across the street, the colors seem to flow together, to complement each other. The photo below shows the almost-completed mural.
Seen up close, I enjoy the variety of colors in the flowers and leaves. Each bright flower seems to pop out of the fence on its own, saying “Look at me.”
As a final step in completing the design, Shea painted a white background between the flowers to help the colors stand out. She left the original orange-brown fence color top and bottom as a frame for the mural. The frame ties in with the colors of Jody and Mark’s house.
What kind of flowers are these?
What do you think?
I asked Shea. She told me she would call them ranunculus, or buttercups, though you could make an argument for peonies. I have peonies in my home garden and they don’t quite match the mural. I had to look up photos of ranunculus. When I did, I thought, Yes…that’s what the fence flowers are.
Where to find “Hope You Smile”
You will find the mural on East Main Street near the corner of Wightman Street. Another landmark is the National Guard Armory, location of the Tuesday Growers & Crafters Market, which is across the street from the mural.
Cathey, Shea. Interview June 2021 and other communications.
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.
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.
A combination of creativity and attention to detail sets this mailbox on Voris Avenue apart from the rest. Greg, creator of this mailbox, was working in his garage as I stopped to admire the little cabin that became a mailbox. I told him how much I enjoyed the woodwork, the chimney, even the realistic garden plants on both sides of the cabin. He told me I would also enjoy the inside. Scroll down to see what I saw inside the cabin/mailbox.
So far in my walks around Ashland, I have seen a variety of lovely and creative painted mailboxes. Here are a few. I am sure there are many more for me to discover.
These eclectic mailboxes grabbed my attention and brought a smile to my face.
My Grand Prize #2 so far
Crafted by metal artist Cheryl Garcia, this is the most sculptural mailbox I have seen in town so far. From bottom to top, there is so much to see. I focused on the critter standing atop the mailbox in my photos. Is “cute” the right word for it? What do you think?
If you enjoyed this photo essay, you will enjoy my “Quirky Sights in Ashland” photo essay. Here is a link.
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.
Ashland High School outdoor art. Cheryl Garcia’s metal art. The Inspire House classroom.
I took photos on Morse Avenue, which runs between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, in April 2018 and again May 2020. Most of the east side of Morse is taken up by the Ashland High School track and field.
Homes and apartments fill the west side of the street. Morse Avenue is only a couple blocks long, as are many streets in Ashland, so this will article will be mostly photographs.
The garden highlight on Morse Avenue was 33 Morse. This home used to belong to Southern Oregon artist Cheryl Garcia and her husband Criss. Cheryl specializes in metal art, and you can still see her work around the garden.
Cheryl Garcia’s website is www.greatmetalwork.com. I have had the pleasure of knowing Cheryl for the past few years. She does create great metal art projects, both small and large. You may have seen her huge flowers just inside the main entrance of the Britt Music Festival, at Walker School in Ashland or the bright yellow-orange metal poppies in the vineyard as you drive into Jacksonville on South Stage Road (photo below).
When Cheryl and Criss sold the home on Morse, she told me that she hoped the new owners would honor and keep her artwork in the garden – and they have. Here are more photos of her art at 33 Morse.
There is an unusual tree at the corner of the garden where Morse Avenue meets East Main Street. I think it’s a weeping Blue Atlas Cedar that has been trained to grow in two directions from the sturdy trunk. It is dramatic!
Ashland High School track
During my 2018 walk, the deer of Ashland were represented on Morse. I was admiring the new AHS track recently installed after a huge community fundraising campaign. Then I noticed that three deer were also admiring the track, perhaps discussing how fast they could run a 100 yard dash.
The track was declared unfit for use in May of 2017, so a huge community fundraising campaign began. $360,000 of private funds was raised to replace the understructure of the track and lay down a state of the art surface layer. It looks great to me. I hope the high school athletes love it.
AHS Inspire House
The Ashland High School Inspire House on Morse Avenue serves a small number of students. I found this explanation at the school website: “The AHS INSPIRE Program serves students who have special needs, with an emphasis on hands-on activities that directly transfer into independent life skills.”
Rebecca Bjornson is the teacher for Inspire House students. I didn’t know about Inspire House when I first wrote about Morse Avenue in April 2018. Since then, I had the pleasure of leading Rebecca and the Inspire House student group on an Ashland History Walk through the Railroad District.
AHS Morse Avenue artwork
I enjoyed seeing this mosaic at the high school as I walked the sidewalk on Morse Avenue. If someone knows the story behind the mosaic, please share it in the comments.
Tulips so bright, I could hardly believe my eyes! Walkable neighborhood, with trees, flowers and paths “New urbanism” is the model
Takelma Way winds its way between Tolman Creek Road and Clay Street. It is a quiet neighborhood, with the houses built in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I walked Takelma Way once in February, when deciduous trees were bare and front yards were low key. I walked the street again in April and found the neighborhood ablaze with bright colors, both the street trees and the yards. I captured a bit of that colorfulness for you in my photo essay of Takelma Way.