Category Archives: Jean’s Schemes

Plywood Art

(Published in the PacificNW Magazine of the Seattle Times on July 19, 2020)

THE BACKSTORY: Chronicling the bright art of a dark, coronaviral time

By Jean Sherrard

(click to enlarge photos)

In the last week of March, witnessing the suddenly quiescent streets of Seattle, I assigned myself the task of documenting the changes that were sure to follow. All but “essential” businesses and services had been closed, and my near-deserted hometown carried more than a whiff of post-apocalyptic sulfur.

A boarded-up, unpainted First Avenue block between Main and Washington Streets days after Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 stay-at-home proclamation.

In the Pike Place Market, owners of restaurants and many dozens of shops had closed until further notice, leaving behind lonely, “essential” islands of grocers, produce and fish shops. Usually chockablock with artisanal crafts and flowers, the market’s long tables were abandoned. A place that for me represents the beating heart of Seattle had suffered near-cardiac arrest.

On March 17, a deserted Pike Place Market.
The empty crafts market

Yet this was not my first pandemic rodeo. In August 1976, I took a gap year from college and volunteered halfway around the world as an aid worker in South Sudan during the world’s first recorded encounter with the Ebola virus. After months of quarantine, the outbreak abated, and I could travel home to immensely relieved parents.

Jean in South Sudan just outside Wau in 1976

By comparison, while it bears a lower mortality rate, COVID-19 nevertheless has proven significantly more infectious, casting a planet-wide shadow for the foreseeable future.

The same block of First Avenue was festooned with murals by the end of April.

In these uniquely dark times, however, my daily contact with works of art-in-progress provided me a palpable sense of hope, and I wasn’t alone. Many artists noted the warm reception from passersby as they worked. “So much gratitude,” marveled Katlyn Hubner, whose “Pup Pack” can be found just below. What’s more, the murals, interactive by nature, encouraged the recording of thousands of selfies.

“The Pup Pack” Katlyn Hubner
Doghouse Leathers, 715 E. Pike St.
Choosing “caution-cone orange” as her primary color, Hubner also meant to express welcome “for people who have been so depressed in their houses and are just trying to make the lonely walk to the grocery store. Going from blank plywood to full color,” she says, “gives a sense of hope to a neighborhood.”

No sooner had pandemic restrictions begun to ease than Black Lives Matter protests began, resulting in a vibrant new crop of political art, wielding its own set of fiery messages that demanded change. While this magazine’s deadlines limited me to chronicling art of the pandemic, the bare plywood installed more recently on the streets of downtown and Capitol Hill has opened up new vistas.

For those who seek an encyclopedic overview of the murals, local press Chatwin Books plans to publish a full-color book featuring more than 140 artworks from all over town, for which artists supplied their own photos. For more info, visit www.chatwinbooks.com.

THE MAIN STORY: Artists fill the bleak streets of our locked-down city with color and life

In many ways, it looked to be a spartan spring.

Throughout Seattle’s now-deserted commercial districts – including Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, Belltown and Ballard – shop and restaurant owners shuttered their plate-glass windows and doors with protective plywood panels following Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home Stay Healthy” order to slow the coronavirus.

There was no telling how long the panels would remain during the pandemic, but once colorful and vibrant streets were left hollowed out and drained of purpose. Raw wood surfaces offered tempting targets for graffiti and taggers. Yet where some saw bleakness, others saw opportunity.

Muralist and sign painter VK recalls the shock of seeing First Avenue south of Yesler after the governor’s order. Within hours, graffiti had materialized haphazardly on the raw wood surfaces. “My first thought,” he says, “was we’ve got to get down there and paint some murals.”

“Wish You Were Here” VK and Leo Shallat
Central Saloon, 207 First Ave S.
Sign painter and muralist VK watched the first plywood panels going up in Pioneer Square and immediately felt the urge to paint. “Guy Curtis, who owns the Central Saloon, is my godfather, and I’ve done art and signage for him for years. He asked us to put up a hopeful sign, and we did it out of love.” VK’s mural was among the earliest to appear in Pioneer Square.

All across Seattle, great minds were thinking alike. Kathleen Warren, artist and director of Overall Creative, working alongside the Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Ballard Alliance, the Broadway Business Improvement Area and the Downtown Seattle Association, put out a call for artists to submit proposals for mural art. The response was huge.

Belltown Pizza owner Doug Lee made a similar plea on Facebook and almost overnight was inundated with offers from more than 200 artists.

Adding to the mix, several business owners independently contracted with muralists to cover plywood with color.

In the weeks to come, murals reimagined and reinvigorated the empty streets. Some works were by established artists, others by street artists who cut their teeth on graffiti.

The response proved as myriad as might be expected from random humans facing times of turmoil. “Art is not about providing answers,” says Wakuda, another muralist, “but asking the right questions.”

“Regeneration” Wakuda
200 First Ave. S.
The mural wrapping the southeast corner of First Avenue and Washington Street oddly complements its historic, somewhat decrepit surroundings. These are not flowers or coral but fungi writ large. “I have this weird thing about mushrooms,” Wakuda says. “They re-colonize the dead and the disused, bringing beauty and meaning to a lifeless place, which is exactly what art does.” While painting on the street, Wakuda wears a jumpsuit and aerosol can holster of his own design. “It signals that I’m someone at work with reason to be there.”

Anne Siems, a prominent Northwest artist whose gallery show had just ended in February, had never painted a mural. The large format both intrigued and unnerved her. “Covering an entire wall with art is kind of like a cave painting,” she says. “It has an inherent power that can draw us in with beauty.”

“Beauty & Terror” Anne Siems
Harvard Avenue East, north of Pike Street
Soon after her gallery show closed, Siems negotiated an emotional tightrope. For her first mural and largest painting ever, she explored her rising tensions. “In my art, I try to find incredible beauty, and yet there’s a sort of splinter under the skin. It tells us everything is ephemeral. … Yet this sense of beauty is something our souls really need.”

From comfort and comedy to biting commentary and remonstration, the new murals recalled the past, reflected the present and affirmed the future.

As Inslee’s restrictions lift, the murals’ fate is up for grabs. Entering the next phase of pandemic response, many businesses have removed the painted plywood and put the art into storage. Some have postponed removal or incorporated the panels into their businesses. Other murals already have been sold to private collectors.

But the muralists continue to paint the town.

A new wave of political art is on the rise, embracing and illustrating this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. As our city confronts the canvas of an uncertain future, both art and artists will be on hand to help us ask the right questions.

“Charleena Lyles” Mari Shibuya & VK
Sephora, 415 Pine St.
While pandemic art is taken down, political art is rising. Near Westlake Park, site of many protests, Shibuya’s mural features Charleena Lyles, a Seattle woman shot and killed by police in 2017.

THE ART

“Waiting with Paco” Jay Mason
240 Second Ave. S.
For his first mural in 20 years, Mason portrayed one of his favorite views of Seattle. “As a dog owner, I spend a lot of time at the Jose P. Rizal dog park. I wanted to illustrate my own experience with quarantine, so I included my wife, Brandy, and our dog, Paco, looking out the window, waiting to return to a deserted city.”
Jay Mason joins his wife Brandy King-Mason and dog Paco at the painted window.
“Take Your Time” Casey Weldon, assisted by Alexander Halliday and Ego Shoreclay
Bon Voyage Vintage, 110 S. Washington St.
His typical canvases are 18-by-24 inches, but Weldon eagerly scaled up to murals without a hitch. “Why sloths?” he asked. “We were all sitting around feeling down on ourselves – isolated and feeling guilty for not being more productive. But during a pandemic, slothfulness is kind of all right.” And sloths are pretty in pink.
Casey Weldon painting ‘Take Your Time’ in mid-April.
“Hello” Casey Weldon, assisted by Crystal Barbre and Zach Takasawa
Life on Mars, 722 E. Pike St.
“When everyone’s confused and unsure of what’s going to happen,” Weldon says, “an artist’s role is to provide visual comfort or at least something that eases the general depression. It’s about envisioning the future we want to see.”
“Untitled” by Zaeos
across from Neumos outside CES Studio, 1428 10th Ave.
A 6-foot-tall crow keenly watches over a vibrant neighborhood. Now a graphic designer, Zaeos began doing street art and graffiti in Portland. “The purpose of these murals,” he says, “is to cover a dystopian or desolate façade with a thing of beauty.”
“Be Sure to Wash Your Flippers!” Sydney M. Pertl, assisted by SeaPertl Productions, Miles Pertl, Leah Terada
Agate Design, 120 First Ave. S.
“This is art that speaks to a very specific time and place,” Pertl says, “and shows a community uniting in the face of so many uncertainties.”
“Writers at Play” Sam Day
The Globe Bookstore, 218 First Ave. S.
Globe owner John Siscoe stands before plywood panels populated with writers. On the front door’s interior surface, Tin Tin cavorts with his dog Snowy, while the right panel is shared by (clockwise from upper left) Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Samuel Beckett and Jamie Ford. Yorick’s skull, from “Hamlet,” peeks out at left.
“Untitled” Dozfy
Amber Lounge, 2214 First Ave.
A giant squid wrestles a whale, etched in this artist’s unmistakable style. Having carved out a niche in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Dozfy has “put everything on pause due to the coronavirus” and during the hiatus is dedicated to “creating a positive effect in which everyone is involved in the story.”
“Untitled” Dozfy
Ballard Annex Oyster House, 5410 Ballard Ave. N.W.
A sea serpent swims along five windows on a side wall.
“Until Next Time” Glynn Rosenberg
5136 Ballard Ave. N.W.
“Street art pops up during times of economic and social unrest,” Rosenberg says. After completing her mural, the building’s bemused owner informed her that her painted doorway and steps recreated lost elements of the original interior. “Somehow,” she says, “I was visited by the ghosts of architecture.”
“Traffic Cone” Dom Nieri
103 Yesler Way
A creative producer in the visual arts, Nieri works to facilitate mural projects around the world but usually doesn’t participate in what he calls “solo acts of creation.” Returning to Seattle in the midst of the pandemic, however, he was inspired to paint a subject he finds compelling. The crumpled traffic cone represents a failure of avoidance. “It has a human quality,” Nieri says, “but whether of defeat or resilience I’ll leave open to interpretation.” The former Subway shop was closed months before COVID-19 after it was damaged by a runaway dump truck.
“Come on Home” Zachary Rockstad
Harvard Avenue East, just north of Pike Street
Commissioned to commemorate musician John Prine, a casualty of COVID-19, Rockstad found himself deeply moved by Prine’s songs. “When everything is just chaos and going to hell, it’s an artist’s job to express how we’re feeling,” he says. Whether out of grief or joy, “art can provide a visual garden.”
“Puppies” Ariel Parrow
The Hart & The Hunter restaurant, 111 Pine St.
“I love painting dogs,” Parrow says, “and puppies are a universal love language.” To relieve tension during finals week at the University of Montana, she says, “The faculty would bring in therapy dogs, and stressed-out students would wait in line for a chance to pet a golden retriever. … I can’t give everybody an actual puppy, but I can share a painting of a puppy, and that’s pretty close.”
“Puppies” Ariel Parrow
The Hart & The Hunter restaurant, 111 Pine St.
Ariel Parrow spent a day painting each golden retriever puppy in this mural.
“Safety is Sexy” Kreau
1631 E. Olive Way
Several years of a booming economy convinced Kreau that gentrification and displacement had diminished the local arts scene. Recently, however, he has seen “art appearing everywhere, helping people cope with turmoil. It was waiting in the wings all along.”
“House Party of One” Sean David Williams
Comet Tavern, 922 E Pike St.
For years, Williams has been a regular customer of the Comet, one of Seattle’s great dive bars. When offered the plywood panel on front, he jumped at the chance. “I showed my love for this place with a kind of dreamy surrealism – a sort of celebration of the selfless act of staying inside during a pandemic.”
“Down the Rabbit Hole” Debora Spencer
2222 Second Ave.
Having recently returned to Seattle from New York, Spencer felt beset by anxiety and sadness as the pandemic loomed. Painting plywood panels in her Belltown neighborhood provided purpose. “Alice’s predicament really spoke to how I felt,” she says. “I’m a social person, but I’m also high-risk, so I worry how to talk to people again without fear of physically getting too close to them. Everything was changing and it was so scary.” Spencer, dressed as Alice, peeks warily out of the doorway of ‘The Rabbit Hole’, a Belltown bar.
Detail from ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’
“Assemblage” Joey Nix
Good Bar, 240 Second Ave S.
This mural illustrates “different elements of the inner workings of certain machines and devices collaged together as a whole,” Nix says. “This suggests that even if you are trained your whole life to be a certain way, you do not necessarily have to fit that mold to be beautiful.”
“Stay Home” Carlos Giovanni and KSRA
southeast corner of Broadway and Pike Street
Creating one of Seattle’s earliest post-shutdown murals, completed April 4, Giovanni and his wife KSRA (pronounced Que Sera) labored on near-deserted streets. “It seems insane to me that it took a pandemic to bring all that beauty to Seattle,” Giovanni says, “but you walk around now, and it’s like a street art gallery.”
“Creativity Regenerates” Mari Shibuya
220 First Ave. S.
Creativity, Shibuya contends, is what makes us human, and especially during turmoil, artists anchor human culture. “Our role is to encourage lateral thinking,” she says, “to uplift the spirits, and to envision a future that we can actually live in.”
“Confined Momentum/Established Parameters” Japhy Witte
Good Bar, 240 Second Ave. S.
Within these vibrant double murals, Witte illustrates a darker vision. With undulations of shape and color, “titans are crammed into a tight space,” he says, “so that you really feel the confinement of it. The momentum of everything is being stripped down, liberties taken away. … Who knows what storm is coming?”
Muralist Japhy Witte at work.
“Quarantine Cutie” Cady Bogart
corner of 10th Avenue and Pike Street
This is the first of two murals painted by Bogart. Her gentle admonition here has been widely shared and admired since it appeared in early April. These days, for Bogart, these words of novelist Toni Morrison ring especially true: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.”
“Enjoy the Flowers” Josephine Rice
Venue, 5408 22nd Ave. NW
After losing her day job designing wedding floral arrangements due to the coronavirus, Rice quickly found work painting murals. Venue owner Diane Macrae offered her a commission in early April and since then Rice has never looked back. She now works full time as a muralist.
WEB EXTRAS

So much remarkable art, so little space. First, heartfelt apologies to those artists whose stunning murals did not appear in the print version of the column. I include a portion of the remarkable artwork spread across town below, divided roughly by location.

First, Ballard:

Belltown:

Capitol Hill:

DOWNTOWN (including Chinatown/ID):

PIONEER SQUARE:

Corona-diaries…

Jean here. As many of you know, I’ve spent the last few weeks wandering the city, attempting to portray Seattle’s response to this pandemic. And it’s been nothing short of inspiring, particularly on the artistic front. Artists and muralists from across the region have gathered in Ballard, on Capitol Hill, in Pioneer Square, and Belltown, to bring color and form to otherwise dormant, plywood-covered streets. Here’s a selection of my faves (double-click to enlarge):

A Viaduct Demolition update…

Occasionally, in our travels, we have the opportunity to visit the waterfront. Like any spectacle of demolition, it provides boundless entertainment at no cost. Here’s a few photos from yesterday, featuring a prominent survivor at Marion.

Looking north from Madison
South view to Marion, where a chunk of the viaduct stands alone, shadowing the pedestrian walkway
Looking north from University
A Seattle tradition…another on-ramp to nowhere (at Seneca)
Much of this prospect has not been seen since the early 50s. The Viaduct still stands south of Columbia Street
Ivar observes with (one might assume) wry approbation
The Marion street pedestrian overpass guards a remaining portion of the Viaduct, or is the other way round?

 

The Last Commute – in memoriam 1953-2019

Greetings, travelers! As no doubt most of you are aware, the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed to traffic forever this past Friday at 10PM. We at DorpatSherrardLomont were determined to mark the occasion. While the city remains divided – and perhaps always will be – over the fate of the viaduct and its replacement by the tunnel, there is no disputing the spectacular views it has provided over the past 65 years.

On its final day of operation, we hoisted a 3D camera above our moonroof and took a 360 degree video of the commute. Enjoy!

–April 4, 1953-January 11, 2019, RIP.

Jean’s First Swim: The Globe Radio Repertory

Over the years, I’ve had a number of queries asking, Who were you, Jean, before Paul came a-knockin’?

Well, for the better part of a decade, ending in 1992, I was the artistic director of a radio theatre called Globe Radio Repertory. My longtime friend and collaborator, John Siscoe, served as literary director; together, we wrote more than 60 scripts for adaptations of classics of Western literature like Don Quixote, Dead Souls, Madame Bovary, selected stories of Anton Chekhov, and Kafka’s The Castle. I had the privilege of directing a number of Seattle’s great actors, amongst them Glen Mazen, John Aylward, John Gilbert, Ted D’Arms, Frank Corrado, Marjorie Nelson, Marianne Owen, and many others.

Our dramas were supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, plus a handful of other local and national corporations and foundations. We aired nationally on NPR Playhouse on more than 150 stations around the country, and internationally in Canada, the UK, and Australia.

For your listening pleasure, here’s the first episode of our 13-part adaptation of Don Quixote, starring Ted D’Arms as Quixote, John Aylward as Sancho Panza, Marjorie Nelson as the housekeeper, John Gilbert as Father Pero Perez, and Glen Mazen narrating.

 

 

A Rogue’s Christmas, 2018

Please join Paul and me for our 12th annual gathering of the rogues! Also in the mix are Kurt Beattie, Julie Briskman, Bill Radke, and our house band Pineola!

A slight change up this year: we’re asking our audience for stories of mishap, mayhem, and mistletoe mischief. Please submit your holiday tales of woe – 500 words or less – for consideration. If selected, it will be performed live at the show by Bill Radke or Julie Briskman, and later be aired on the KUOW ‘Speaker’s Forum’ Christmas edition! Submit your stories to holidaydisasters@townhallseattle.org.

A Rogue’s Christmas 2018

Seattle’s 2018 Folklife Festival

Still quite glorious in its diversity and wide appeal, Folklife is surely one of the planet’s great festivals. As Baby Gramps reflected on Sunday evening, in the Newport Folk Festivals heyday, it drew a respectable crowd of 50,000 –Folklife brings out five times that many. A few snaps from my all-too brief visit yesterday evening and this afternoon.

(as always, click to enlarge photos)

The view from atop the Fisher Green Pavilion
The Saints Come Marchin’ In…
A sure sign of summer in Seattle – Fountain follies….

Baby Gramps, waiting for a sound check….

Near Broad Street, a gathering of the tribes…

The Mad Robins a cappella contradance chorus. From left: Michael Karcher (caller); Amy Hanson Wimmer, Abigail Hobart, Diana Herbst, Anita Anderson, Isaac Sarek Banner, David Kessler, Melissa Coffey, and Brandon Ananias Martin-Anderson
Capoeira on display…
A southern view up the Center’s dappled walkway
A brass band plays next to a sign reading, “No Loud Busking here”
Last night’s full moon…

More Market…

The Pike Place Market has been one of my stomping grounds since my early teens. Formative place – the first beer I actually purchased was in Post Alley’s long-gone Victrola Tavern at the age of 15 (still in costume as Laertes in a production of ‘Hamlet’ at the Stage One Theatre).

Yesterday, I watched the Pike Place Market Historical Commission at work and was impressed once again by their commitment to fostering and maintaining a thriving market, accessible and accountable to locals and tourists alike.

A few more photos, taken in glorious daylight saving time while the sun sets over a closing market.

Looking directly down Pike – the lovely Market steps descend to the waterfront
Lovely even in reverse
The Antwerpen Express out of Hamburg is towed into port
End of the day…

Market People on Parade

Every sunny weekend in the Pike Place Market is a revelation – a flood of people, light, and color. In addition, yesterday there were a number of celebrants of the East Indian Holi festival of colors. Here are a few candid shots that for some reason make me happy.