I live in Vancouver, and sometimes on a typical, Pacific Northwest, gray day, our cityscape had lacked pops of color. But all that has changed with the work of the Clark County Mural Society. When I walk the streets today, I’m taken with the history, the vibrant community and the brightly colored murals.

Following the Mural Map

I’m used to seeing the well-established ones: Chkalov’s Landing- Pearson Airfield mural and the Ryan Woods Memorial Uptown Village mural.

I thought I had seen them all until I did a mapped mural walk. What I discovered encompassed more murals, more local history and a great walk on a sunny day.

I started my colorful adventure in the parking lot across from the Columbian Newspaper building. Of course, that was my first surprise. I had never seen the newspaper mural! It shows a paperboy delivering his papers as a dog runs behind him. In the background is the history of the newspaper that started out as the Vancouver Columbian.

The Pearson Field historical mural depicts the 1937 surprise landing of Pilot Valery Chkalov who had flown 5200 miles, nonstop, from Moscow. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

I walked through downtown, through uptown, crisscrossed the route so I wouldn’t miss one (I still did!) and returned to the starting point via the somber Remembrance Wall. It chronicles the wars and contributions of civilians on the home front. Vancouver was the site of a huge WWII shipyard.

Lest we forget… the murals on the “Remembrance Wall” depict the timeline of wars our country has been involved with. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

As I walked, I realized that Vancouver is one of those cities where you can walk around downtown feeling safe. New construction and an influx of businesses, such as brew pubs and boutiques, adds to the positive vibe of the city.

I looked beyond the grape vines at Cellar 55 and saw, for the first time, a mural celebrating Columbia River life: salmon, huge sturgeon below the water and busy barges above. I’d been to Cellar 55, but always was inside and missed this piece of art.

The Cellar 55 mural celebrates life on and in the mighty Columbia River. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

I rounded another corner and, only because I had a route map, found a delicate painting of dancers practicing at the barre, a Degas look-alike on the side of a building housing The Columbia Dance Academy.

Another find was on the side of the Leupke Florist building. A developer purchased the art deco building and plans to revitalize it, along with the florist, and turn the area into “Luepke Station.” This will be a downtown area with a coffee shop, wine bar or tap room and an upscale eatery eventually rounding out the building. Projects like this help a bit of Vancouver history to be saved.

The mural on the Leupke Station Building depicts Luepke Flowers & Finds, a Vancouver, WA mainstay providing local, farm-fresh flowers since 1909. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

Some Murals Become Favorites

My favorite murals were no surprise. I’ve studied their detail before as I visited downtown. The Columbia River triptych at 115 West 7th Street has a little bit of history, a colorful depiction of Columbia River boat traffic and a fanciful mural of recreation. What I enjoy looking at are the details, like how the artists incorporated aspects of the building such as windows, vents and pipes into their art.

More Murals and More Than Murals

The art is not just on walls. Recently, a collaboration of community organizations, including the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance, invited artists to decorate Main Street storm drains. These colorful paintings remind people of the connection between what flows down the storm drain and the health of our rivers, streams and ocean.

The murals continue to be painted. The Clark County Mural Society website provides the history, a map of the murals, news on future murals and opportunities for artists. Recently finished are Guy Drennan’s Vancouver Fire Department 150th Anniversary mural across the street from the new Station 1 and the art of Michael Feliz at Anderson Glass on Fourth Plain Boulevard. The newer murals have yet to find their way onto the map I followed.

On this fanciful mural building elements are incorporated into the art. Note the bluebird window! Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

The British Columbia Connection

It all started with a desire to draw people to central Vancouver. The founders talked 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.

Murals have an important role in drawing people to Vancouver’s vibrant downtown and Arts District today. To keep up with what’s happening with the mural projects, check out the videos on the City of Vancouver website and follow the Clark County Mural Society Facebook page.

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