Mural artists, from left, Erin Gilpin, Denise Baxter and Jose Rivera sit beneath their work on the side of Ashland Emergency Food Bank on Monday. - Julia Moore

Mural is Ashland's largest piece of public art

Artists on Monday put the finishing touches on a giant mural portraying the four seasons on the outside wall of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

The 52-by-18-foot mural, funded by local philanthropists and done in ordinary acrylic housepaint, portrays the changing seasons and the planting and harvesting of food in Ashland. It keys in on the theme of beauty, joy and sharing expressed by the food bank, says Executive Director Pam Marsh.

The new mural, now the largest piece of public art in Ashland, will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Aug. 3 with food and music. The food bank is at 560 Clover Lane near the south interchange. It was commissioned by a grant from Barry and Kathryn Thalden of Ashland.

"It's been a privilege to watch this wonderful piece of art unfold and join the city's art collection," says Marsh, who is also a City Council member. "It's a tremendous donation and it speaks of the giving and receiving that goes on here as we share food with our neighbors."

The long, colorful mural portrays the Ashland landscape, people, animals and produce in various seasons: a couple at a campfire at Emigrant Lake in winter; the planting of fields in spring; a family wading in the Fairy Ponds of upper Ashland Creek in summer; a hand-holding couple at harvest time, in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin.

"I'm pretty happy we stayed on our (three-week) schedule and got it done despite challenging rain, heat and wind," says Denise Baxter, executive director of the Ashland Art Center and lead artist on the project.

"Doing this mural was an interesting microcosm of life," says Baxter. She and her five apprentice artists from Southern Oregon University worked on small parts of it, mapped by grids, and weren't able to see the big picture till they got well into the work.

The project has been intense, says Baxter, noting her two children had to do their own cooking over the last three weeks.

"Finally, it said, 'I'm done enough,' " says Baxter. " 'Don't fight the 1/8ths and 1/16ths.' It's like we planned and I'm very happy."

The mural is the first to be reviewed and shepherded by the city's new Public Arts Commission, says member Sandy Friend. It opens the door for more murals that meet the commission's standards as listed on the city's website.

"It's the first mural project after we drafted our new procedures and they followed it perfectly, every step," says Friend. "It's quite gorgeous. ... We visited it at the preliminary stage, the mid-stage and will sign off on it at our public meeting at the final stage."

Baxter painted some of the public art that lawyer Lloyd Haines affixed without a permit to the underside of the Lithia Way overpass in 2007, a controversial move that opened the discussion for public art — and its guidelines — in the city of Ashland.

"We've been delighted with the mural and its progress on schedule," said commission member Alissa Clark.

"This mural is an amazing and wonderful thing, a thrilling opportunity," says one of its artists, Erin Gilpin. "It highlights what a beautiful place this valley is and, through the year, will lift up what might otherwise be a depressing day."

Another painter, Jose Rivera, notes, "It's a good thing for the community. It brings more people out and gives everyone a chance to see something colorful. It's been a big learning experience for me."

Richard Sangeleer is producing a 15-minute, time-lapse film of the project. It will be shown at the dedication ceremony and may be offered in the Ashland Independent Film Festival.

"It's beautiful. It came out really good because they stuck to the original design and didn't let it get out of control," says Sangeleer. "It feels like it was done by an old master with many apprentices who know how to do her style. It will grow and change with the seasons it portrays."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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