What better way to enjoy Vancouver’s public art than with a guided walk on a beautiful spring morning? As the tagline says: These are two delicious flavors that go together well.
To celebrate National Walking Week, the Vancouver Walking Club sponsored a “mural walk” downtown Saturday morning, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to learn about the nearly 50 murals painted on buildings, walls, streets and even city storm drains.
“Today is one of seven walks held in the first seven days of April,” said Tom Baltes, president of the walking club. “Yesterday we were at West Linn. Our club sponsors walks throughout the Vancouver area: Camas, Washougal, down the Gorge (of the Columbia River), to Longview and Kalama, and Long Beach on the coast.
Also known as the Vancouver Volkssporters, German for “the people’s sport,” the walking club has more than 115 members, but many of its events, including the Saturday Mural Walk, are open to the public. Baltes noted that the club also sponsors events for cycling, swimming and other sports.
Whether it was the (eventually) sunny skies or the promise of beautiful art, the weekend’s event attracted dozens of walkers. Some preferred the longer and faster 10 km walk; others were more interested in the shorter, slower 5K tour.
The mural walk was Camas resident Renee Babbas’ first outing with the Vancouver Walking Club.
“We retired when COVID hit, and we were looking for things to do,” Babbas said. “I thought it would be a good way to get out and learn more about the murals.”
For Vancouver resident Ellen Amheiser, Saturday’s walk was a familiar exercise. Amheiser said she regularly searches for groups that run city walks and was happy to find this one.
“And I just searched walks on MeetUp for other wall walks,” Amheiser said. (MeetUp is an online service for organizing group meetings.)
While she was more interested in walking, Amheiser said art was definitely a plus.
“I belong to many walking and hiking groups,” said Vancouver resident Wanda Morton. “I just wanted to see what was going on…and it’s a beautiful day.”
Since 2004, the Clark County Mural Society has worked diligently to bring more public art to the city.
Jerry Rolling, who co-founded the mural society with Nikki White, said he was inspired to turn Vancouver into a “mural city” by similar efforts he saw in Chemainus, British Columbia.
“They had a very artistic Indian tribe nearby, and they immediately started producing world-class murals,” Rolling said. “It was a town that was 3 miles off the highway, and no one would ever go there. Now they have a thriving tourist industry there.
Perhaps one of the most popular murals along the boardwalk is the piece “19th and Main Streets, Vancouver” by Guy Drennan, Karen Jolma and Judy Sanders from 2006. The mural is both of the art and Americana and was inspired by a 1950s photograph of college students walking along Main Street as they return home from Vancouver high school.
Another popular work is “Dancers Practicing at the Barre”, painted by artists Guy Drennan and Kelly Hytrek in 2009. The mural is reminiscent of the works of French Impressionist master Edgar Degas.
Funding for the murals comes from a variety of sources, some from the City of Vancouver, some from tourism funds and the rest from “drip-feed” donations, Rolling said.
Not all of the murals spotted on the walk are the result of the efforts of the Clark County Mural Society. A large floral mural of what appeared to be a hummingbird on the side of a Vancouver Housing Authority building was an independent project created two years ago.
“It was a surprise to me when it went up,” Rolling said.
Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in preserving murals. Rolling explained that in the past few months alone, five murals have been painted. He said that usually happens when a new owner buys and then renovates the building.
“It’s heartbreaking and almost always unnecessary,” Rolling said. “Some of them are our best murals.”
One of the now missing murals depicted the famous landing of the first transpolar flight at Pearson Airfield, “Chkalov Landing at Pearson”.
“It commemorates the greatest historic event in Vancouver, the first transpolar flight in 1937, and it was painted about three years ago,” Rolling said. “It was painted over because someone bought the building and they were in the process of renovating it.”
Another painted mural was on 23rd Avenue and Main Street; it paid homage to the relationship between Native Americans and salmon. This mural was paid for by the City of Vancouver. Another mural was just lost on Friday.
Rolling said he would like to see the city pass an ordinance protecting the works.
In the meantime, and to prevent future murals from being lost, Rolling said the murals will soon be printed on moveable panels using special graffiti-resistant paint.
“An artist can do their work on a computer, which is a lot less work, and you can manipulate images and create a really good image with more detail than on a wall,” he said.