Washougal students create mural

Chinook salmon painted on overpass

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Jemtegaard Middle School Club 8 art student Abby Picho paints a section of a mural in Washougal on Saturday, Oct. 12. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

The 10 words at the bottom of Washougal’s newest public mural encapsulate the essence of the artwork: “I am unique. I am not you. I am me.”

“That speaks for the mural itself,” Jemtegaard Middle School (JMS) art teacher Dani Allen said about the quote, which came from JMS student Mari Estada-Iniguez. “Everybody has their own little piece of it, and everybody’s is just a little bit different.”

Allen’s 25-student Club 8 art group painted the mural, which depicts a salmon, on the overpass near the Durgan and “D” Street intersection on Saturday, Oct. 12.

Each student felt they had a “sense of ownership,” according to Washougal artist Travis London, who assisted Allen and the students with the mural project.

“They’ve enjoyed the camaraderie, and the fact that the mural is going to be there (permanently),” Allen said. “They’re going to be able to bring their friends and parents, and their relatives that come into town, by here and show them, ‘This is what I did.'”

Each student painted their own design within squares and rectangles inside the outline of a Chinook salmon.

“With these types of projects, there’s so much coordination that goes into making a cohesive piece that at the same time is individually unique,” London said. “It came together well. I’m happy with it.”

Allen had been seeking an opportunity for her students to paint a mural in town for several years.

“I had asked if we could do this wall about two years ago. We were going to do it with (muralist) Toma Villa, but he costs $1,000 a day, and we were trying to raise the money for it, but it never really happened,” Allen said. “When I was working at the (Washougal) Art Festival this summer, I met Travis and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this with my kids?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’d love it.’ That’s how it started.”

Allen also received assistance from the Washougal Schools Foundation, which funded a $1,000 grant to pay for paint and London’s services; the city of Washougal, which prepared the overpass surface; and the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA), which paid for the primer used to prepare the surface.

“(We’ve) been wanting to cover this patch of concrete for a long time, and finding the right group of people to work on this project has fallen into place with (Allen),” Suzanne Grover, Washougal’s parks and cemetery program manager, said at the Washougal City Council’s Sept. 23 workshop meeting.

The students prepared for several weeks during Club 8, an after-school program at JMS that provides opportunities for Washougal middle-schoolers to cultivate their interests and talents in casual settings and foster bonds with adults.

“We worked on taking a tiny drawing and making it big by gridding out the paper,” Allen said. “I showed them some zentangles, optical illusions and patterns, and told them they first had to draw 10 and narrow it down to the one they liked the best, then grid it out and draw it giant and practice painting it — because paint works different than colored pencil — and really think about their color choices. For the last month, they’ve been working on different sketches, and this is what it turned into.”

London, who works as an art teacher in the Vancouver School District, was impressed with the students’ abilities.

“The kids were super creative, and they had (good) ideas,” he said. “Each design is completely different than the other ones, so it was fun to see how they all came (together) with their different skill levels and interests. These kids are motivated and enjoy painting and enjoy doing art, which is fun.”

The group chose a salmon because it was symbolic of the area, London said.

“WACA really wants all the art murals in town to have something to do with Washougal, and since we have the rivers I thought (a salmon) would be awesome,” Allen said. “Travis and I had a couple ideas, and we liked this one the best to get more kids involved.”

Seen up close, the variety in the designs is striking. One square features a bumblebee. Another has a rainbow. Another is filled with a scenic landscape. One square toward the tail end of the fish says, “Life can be a rough current, but just swim through it!” One student filled a square with ice cream cones. Another student painted Peppa the Pig, a popular children’s cartoon character. Overall, the mural is very colorful.

But the designs weren’t all bright and merry. One student wrote: “The world’s messed up” in her black-and-white square.

“I was hesitant to let her keep that one, but for her that’s what she feels like right now,” Allen said. “To make her take that down is making her feelings not be heard. That’s the other thing: the kids feel like they are heard, that they’re important, that they have a voice, a say in their community.”

At the city’s Sept. 23 workshop session, Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said “there seems to be a consensus that this is a great project.”

Washougal City Councilwoman Alex Yost said the mural might even serve a practical purpose by potentially slowing drivers on what she deemed “a really dangerous corner.”

“When you’re decorating a Christmas tree, you don’t put all the ornaments on the front, right? You want to hit every single angle,” said Yost, a member of WACA. “If you’re thinking about the city, you don’t want (art on) just those main corridors. You want it to be natural and organic so that it’s woven into the fabric of the city instead of just on the main drag.”

WACA president Jim Cooper said the mural should have a positive impact in Washougal.

“We’re supportive of it,” Cooper said. “It decorates the town, in a way. It’s kind of like make-up that improves the aesthetics of a bland surface.”

Allen agreed.

“I know this wall has had graffiti (in the past), and hopefully that won’t happen because of this,” she said. “A couple of the neighbors have come out and said, ‘Thank you. We’ve been staring at this blank wall for a long time.’ I think (the mural is) amazing. When you look at it from afar, it all comes together.”