How It Started
From 2002 to 2004 Jerry Rolling and Nikki White regularly walked with a larger group early on Friday mornings. To pass the time Jerry once told Nikki about a small town in British Columbia, Canada which had revived its economic fortunes after the local mill downsized by painting murals on every available downtown wall. That town was, and is, Chemainus. When Jerry suggested that someone should do the same with downtown Vancouver; Nikki said “How about us?”
Nikki continued to say “How about us?” for the next year and a half.
In January 2004 Nikki and Jerry formed the society and started regular meetings and quickly co-opted Guy Drennan, an experienced local muralist. The nonprofit society was formed and IRS 501 c 3 charitable status obtained in July 2004
The name “Clark County Murals Society” was selected because, although the initial effort was for downtown Vancouver, the long term effort was planned to encompass the whole of Clark County and involve all its local community groups.
Our aims, arrived at after many weekly meetings, were firstly to bring murals to Downtown Vancouver, helping and being part of the rejuvenation of the commercial area, and secondly to paint murals on high visibility murals in suburban parts of Clark County, particularly big box stores, highway overpasses and sound walls.
For the downtown area we first considered a Lewis and Clark theme. A series of murals would lead from the Hilton Hotel to the Lewis and Clark display at 6th and Broadway. But…. we couldn’t get excited about it. When we realized that a significant factor in picking a Lewis and Clark theme was the possibility of obtaining Bi-Centennial funding towards the cost of the artwork we reexamined our motives and abandoned the prospective project.
We considered reproducing old photos of downtown scenes on the sides of buildings in the older part of downtown, the story of the Kaiser shipyard on the building on the northwest corner of Main and 9th Street, Captain Vancouver, the Missoula Floods, a Mural-in-a-Day annual competition using the railroad retaining wall between Columbia and Esther (the site of the Remembrance Wall), Fort Vancouver and the SP & S 700. The latter is a steam locomotive, still maintained and taken out for the occasional spin by the Pacific Historic Railroad Association; a bunch of enthusiasts who spend their weekends maintaining and repairing this magnificent beast. The latter is what appealed to us the most. The location was to be the back of the Columbian Commercial Press building at 8th and Jefferson, most easily viewed from the parking lot of the restaurant at 6th and Jefferson. After much thought and organization we decided to inaugurate a mural on July 7th 2005 during the National Historic Railroad Convention in Portland. The image was to be SP & S 700 pulling cars from different eras with local characters from each time in the appropriate car. They would be reading newspapers from their time and be wearing period dress.
The Railway (BNSF) at first gave permission for the locomotive to be parked on the track for an hour on July 7th during the ceremony, then moved us to Sunday the 3rd and finally put us on hold. By this time (March 2005) we were heavily committed to the Remembrance Wall and realized we could not do both with the resources we had and so postponed the project. We hope to complete this project in 2006.
In December 2004 we learned of Celebrate Freedom, to be held August 26th to 28th 2005, and quickly decided to use our “Mural-in-a-Day wall” for a tribute to veterans instead. By mid-January we had settled on the basic format you see today. We immediately obtained letters of support from the City of Vancouver and Celebrate Freedom.
We had a challenge facing us at the time. Our beautifully painted artwork on 600 feet of wall, when complete, was going to be topped by 5 foot weeds, blackberries hanging over the wall, dead trees, fast food wrappers, broken railroad ties and miscellaneous metallic debris. In a classic case of turning lemons into lemonade we decided to clear the railroad berm, place topsoil as necessary, plant 5,000,000 Flanders Poppy seeds (the symbol of the Remembrance of Veterans coming from the First World War) and name the project The Remembrance Wall.
In February we started clearing the berm. We had tremendous volunteer effort, about 600 hours, from our committee, Keller Williams Realty, Vancouver Rotary, Mountain View Seniors, friends and relatives. Keller Williams supplied a front end loader which was much appreciated.
Sub2M, a professional mural group from Portland, was hired to paint the images. A system was set up with the City design review Panel, a citizen’s body administered by City staff. After an initial presentation they allowed us to provide a section of artwork at a time for review by phone and approval. We instituted an internal review committee open to all. We specifically recruited veterans. They saw and approved the artwork before it went to the City Design Review Panel. Some of our initial artwork ideas graphically portrayed the suffering endured by our veterans in order to have viewers appreciate, remember and be thankful for those sacrifices. The veterans themselves were the ones most opposed to this approach and we have substantially modified our original ideas.
Our next problem was how to pay the artists. The fee negotiated with the artists was $30,000. Additionally we had to provide paint, scaffolding, anti-graffiti coating and other material and facilities totaling $10,000. Miscellaneous donations, T Shirt sales and small contributions from viewers during Celebrate Freedom we believed would bring in $8000 leaving a deficit of $32,000. We made several formal applications for grants and many informal enquiries and were turned down in every case; through being a new society and not locating a grant giving-organization which felt they could finance a mural. Our ingenious and bold committee then determined to create this booklet to satisfy two requirements; provide a guide to the specific wall images and raise money through advertising and sponsorships to pay for them. The booklet is organized to follow the wall images from east to west with explanation of each scene and our reason for selecting it. Interspersed with these items will be vignettes describing local and national stories relating to the painted images. Additional two page feature stories will highlight George Marshall and the Marshall Plan, the USS St Lo, the USS Guadalcanal, Remembrance Poppies, the oldest living WAVE, the Thomas Paine quotation painted on the wall (If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.) and the Kaiser Shipyard.
At the time of writing we have seeded the berm but, due to a change in BNSF policy, been forbidden to access the berm to weed. We will have to see how strong those poppies are! 100 feet of the wall is painted and incremental parts of the design are progressing through our Art Review Committee and the City system. The booklet writing and advertising sales are progressing but behind schedule. We trust that you are reading this from our booklet, appreciating the wall, its message and addition to Vancouver’s cultural inventory and we have succeeded in paying for it all!