Brushes on brick brighten Vancouver byways

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter



Mural winners

The Clark County Mural Society's Summer of Mural 2013 Competition

• First place: Farmers Market by Travis Czekalski

• Second place: Grape Quartet by David Van Overeem

• Third place: Bicycle by Jon Stommel

• People's Choice: Beacon Rock by Michael Felix

• Honorable Mention: Kaiser Shipyard by Ellen Clark

For more information on the mural society, visit

ESTHER SHORT — On a rainy November day, Crystal Lary walked her dog Coava through downtown Vancouver. Amid the gray and brick buildings, she met blasts of color as she reached the train tracks near the Columbia River.

To her left, a mural of a smiling cloud riding a bike in front of a long rainbow. To her right, a wall crowded with paintings depicting decades of America's military history. Colorful images also line the railroad overpass.

"It's a nice pop," she said. "I think the people who can see (the murals) really appreciate it."

The colorful paintings showing up throughout the city's core are part of an effort by the Clark County Mural Society to bring more vitality to Vancouver.

"It's a fun way to clean up our city and bring vibrancy and color," said Nikki White, a board member for the mural society.

The murals are a way to attract people to downtown while also promoting Vancouver's artistic identity and cultural richness, White said.

"The more tourism we can bring and the more traffic we can bring to our small businesses down here, the better," White said.

After the mural society's first mural in 2005, the nonprofit helped create a mural or two each year. But for the past two years, the organization has picked up the pace through a competition called the Summer of Murals.

This summer, the competition added five new murals to walls of Vancouver buildings, for a total of 16 pieces of wall art, White said. And while downtown has been a focal point, White said that eventually the mural society hopes to spread the project throughout the county.

"I would love to (have) 100 murals and be recognized as a national mural destination," White said.

For the Summer of Murals, the mural society chooses a theme for each wall and then artists submit drawings based on the themes. A panel of judges, which includes members of the Clark County art community, then decides which artists will paint the murals. Business owners who offer up their blank walls get some say as well before the artists put brush to brick.

The project is paid for entirely through donations. A handful of Vancouver businesses donated more than $10,000 in prize money for the artists; paint was donated by Sherwin-Williams and fundraising events will pay for the murals' maintenance.

Matt Brislawn, owner of Briz Loan & Guitar, was excited to be part of the project.

"We have this big blank wall out there staring at me every day," he said. "I've always admired the murals that have been around for years. It adds character to our downtown."

The theme that the mural society matched with his wall was fitting for his business as well — wine and jazz festivals.

The brick wall now boasts a mural of green and white piano keys that appear to dance in front of other instruments on a checkered backdrop. The whole scene is framed by grapevines.

"It's pretty awesome," he said. "If all goes well, we'd like to have (David Van Overeem, the artist) come back and expand on it in the coming years."

And the more colorful paintings that emerge, the more positive feedback the mural society is getting.

"It's really starting to get legs," White said. "It's going to be exciting over the next few years to see even more pop up."