When the coronavirus pandemic was raging, making murals was one of the few public art activities that continued unabated.
“It was the one bright spot,” said Audrey Clark, president of the Clark County Mural Society, which managed to commission two new artworks along Fourth Plain Boulevard during summer 2020 and three more this summer.
One mural is underway now at River City Church, another at Thai Little Home restaurant, and a third — with approvals still pending — is expected to be a collaborative, multicultural student project that’s headed for an Interstate 5 retaining wall later this year, Clark said.
That puts the total tally of murals brought to Fourth Plain since 2017 by the all-volunteer, grant- and donation-funded Mural Society at an impressive 15.
But the largest and perhaps most popular artwork of them all — depicting a line of vividly real children’s faces, linked by greenery and flowing blue water — is headed for destruction. That’s because the cinderblock building at 2504 E. Fourth Plain — which used to be Evergreen Floors and Doors, then was sold last year to Sea Mar Community Health Centers — needs to be gutted and rebuilt.
“It had a fatal roof leak that no one knew about,” said Mural Society founder Jerry Rolling. “Two walls are down and the rest will be down soon.”
The Florida-based muralist, whose name is Camille Cote and who signs her work “FABS,” lived in Vancouver for three summers in a row to work on this and other artworks along Fourth Plain, Clark said.
“It’s the only one that has to come down,” said Rolling. “We are distraught.”
Preservation on panels
That’s the bad news. The good news is, digital photography can preserve the mural’s imagery, and may even point the way toward a more colorful and versatile downtown artscape, according to Rolling.
FABS’ fabulous mural has been photographed at the best possible resolution, Clark said, so it can be turned into metal-framed panels and reassembled in the future.
“That’s our go-to for saving some of these murals,” Clark said. “This is not the only one. But it’s the most visible one and the most beloved.”
Murals on panels may be the wave of the future, Rolling said, because they’re conveniently preservable, transportable, storable and even reproducible from digital files.
“It’s also much brighter color, because the panels and systems are designed for advertising,” he said. “A lot of our work in the future will be on panels.”
One example of a mural built out of panels is already on display in downtown Vancouver. It’s on the north side of the Trusty Brewing building, facing a parking lot on the corner of Broadway and 11th Street. Sponsored by the Mural Society in honor of Vancouver’s sister-city relationship with Joyo, Japan, the mural by Guy Drennan depicts the earliest historical contacts between Vancouver and Japan.
All the sprawling FABS mural really needs is a massive enough wall to mount it. Nobody has asked Sea Mar whether the same mural could go right back up on the same wall in panel form, Clark said.
Meanwhile, Rolling has his eye on the south side of downtown Vancouver’s railroad berm, facing the new waterfront development, and said initial contacts with city officials about that site have been promising.
Rolling said it could be the start of something big: a whole new palette for showing murals and growing Vancouver’s identity as an arts town.