Sunday, September 11, 2016

Vancouver Washington Murals: An Illustrated Walk Through History

Total disclaimer here. I live in Vancouver, Washington. I love the history, the vibrant community and the brightly colored murals. I thought I had seen them all until I did a mapped mural walk with the All Weather Walkers. What I discovered, were more murals, more local history and a great walk on a sunny September day.

The club was set up in the parking lot across from the Columbian Newspaper building. Of course that was my first surprise. I had never seen the newspaper mural! A paperboy delivers his papers as a dog runs behind him. In the background is the history of the newspaper that started out as the Vancouver Columbian.

We walked through Downtown, through Uptown, crisscrossed the route so we wouldn’t miss one (I still did!) and returned to the starting point via the somber Remembrance Wall chronicling the wars and contributions by civilians on the home front. Vancouver was the site of a huge WWII shipyard.

As I walked, I realized that Vancouver is one of those cities where you can walk around downtown feeling safe. New construction and an influx of businesses such as brew pubs adds to the positive vibe of the city.

I looked beyond the grape vines at Cellar 55 and saw, for the first time, a mural celebrating Columbia River life… salmon, huge sturgeon below the water and busy barges above. I’d been to Cellar 55 but always was inside and missed this piece of art.

I rounded another corner and, only because I had a route map, found a delicate painting of dancers practicing at the Barre, a Degas look-alike on the side of a building housing a dance studio.

Another find was on the side of the Leupke Florist building. The Leupke family no longer has a flower shop there but there is good news. A developer purchased the art deco building and plans to revitalize the Luepke building and the florist shop and turn the area into “Luepke Station,” a downtown area with a coffee shop, wine bar or tap room and upscale eatery eventually rounding out the building. A bit of Vancouver history will be saved.

My favorite murals were no surprise. I’ve studied their detail before as I visited downtown.  The Columbia River triptych at 115 W. 7th St. Vancouver, WA has a little  bit of history, a colorful depiction of Columbia River boat traffic and a fanciful mural of recreation on the building. What I enjoy looking at are the details… how the artists incorporated aspects of the building like windows and pipes into the art.
I love how the window became a bird!

The murals continue to be painted. The Clark County Mural Society website provides the history, a map of the murals and news on future murals and opportunities for artists.

And it all started with a desire to draw people to central Vancouver. The founders talked about a small town in British Columbia, Canada which had revived its economic fortunes after the local mill downsized by painting murals on every available downtown wall. That town was, and is, Chemainus. Murals have an important role in drawing people to Vancouver’s vibrant downtown and Arts District today.