What is the future of the Murals of West Seattle?

July 11th, 2016

Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, led tours of the Murals of West Seattle during West Seattle Art Walk on Thursday evening, June 9 and July 7, 2016. Eals took tour groups to the sites of nine of the 11 original murals in the project, and this video, taken by historical-society volunteer Deb Barker, with editing assistance from Klem Daniels Productions, covers the second of the tours on June 9 (near the end of which rain began to fall). The instigator of the project, which brought world-class muralists to West Seattle in 1989 to 1993, was retired businessman Earl Cruzen, who grew up in West Seattle and serves on the Advisory Council of the historical society. For more info, visit the Murals of West Seattle page of Facebook.

 

By Clay Eals, executive director Southwest Seattle Historical Society

2016 06-08 Murals of West Seattle poster69Longtime West Seattleites may look at them as treasures that illuminate our past. Newcomers may wonder how they came to be.

But no matter how long you have lived here, you likely have noticed the increasing deterioration and attrition of the Murals of West Seattle.

The Murals of West Seattle project was led by longtime local business leader Earl Cruzen in 1989-1993. Earl was a persuasive pied piper in the West Seattle business community, drumming up bare walls, funds from generous building owners and the key ingredient of enthusiasm to bring the project to fruition.

Earl recruited world-class muralists whose work adorned the coastal Washington towns of Long Beach and Ilwaco and the Canadian ex-lumber town of Chemainus, north of Victoria, B.C.

I was part of Earl’s team (as was the late graphic artist Moe Beerman) for this truly exhilarating project. As president of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society board, I helped supply vintage photos for the muralists to interpret and render colorfully on the walls of The Junction and beyond.

Part of the excitement was the ability for everyone to watch the murals come to life and to interact with the visiting muralists as they did their summertime work day after day. The result was 11 unique art pieces, and for more than a quarter-century the murals have brought to life the rich history of much of the Duwamish peninsula – the very definition of tangible community-building.

While the murals still inspire us, on the whole they are not in great shape. If they are to remain an asset for the area’s thriving business climate and heritage appreciation, they need ongoing attention.

For evidence of this need, look at several recent events:

  • The destruction of one faded mural as part of a massive redevelopment. (It is to be reproduced in another location within the project.)
  • The abrupt removal of another severely deteriorated mural when the owner of the property on which it stood deemed it an eyesore.
  • Extensive graffiti tagging on three other murals.

Shadowing these owner decisions and instances of vandalism is the pall cast by the ravages of the elements. Sun, wind and rain, along with the growth of nearby vegetation, conspire to reduce even the most vivid of murals to mere echoes of their former beauty.

The Murals of West Seattle are not city landmarks. They were intended to interpret our history, not to serve as artifacts.

Yet it has been easy for all of us to become attached to them. They are part of our identity. They add unique zest. They are part of what makes us feel like we are home.

One might wonder: Where is the overarching organization or committee looking after the Murals of West Seattle? There is none. What happens to them is simply in the hands of the individual building owners.

Commendably, two of the Murals of West Seattle have been refurbished in recent years, and there is serious talk about the restoration of a third. But there is no long-term plan and no dedicated funding (beyond a small grandfathered sum held by the West Seattle Junction Association) to keep the Murals of West Seattle program alive.

Should the Murals of West Seattle continue to fade and be rescued or lost on a one-by-one, laissez-faire basis? Or could there exist a critical mass of interest in ensuring their long-term sustainability?

When the Murals of West Seattle project was created, Earl Cruzen was acting on behalf of a group called the Junction Development Committee. Given that the murals reinforced the health of West Seattle’s business hub, it was fitting that this committee consisted of representatives of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the West Seattle Junction Association and the West Seattle Trusteed Properties, as well as the expertise and generosity of many other individuals.

Perhaps this approach – to gather a diverse group of business leaders and others – is just what is needed to revive a focus on the Murals of West Seattle. Such a group could create a vision for the project’s continued viability and serve as a clearinghouse to address all mural-related questions, such as:

  • Which of the existing murals should be repaired, restored and/or maintained?
  • In what priority order?
  • Where can and should needed funds come from?
  • How can the maintenance work be made ongoing?
  • What subject matter, sites and artists should be considered for additional murals?

As we toured the Murals of West Seattle on June 9 and July 7, 9 and 10, 2016, we raised and discussed these questions. If you have any interest in the murals or just want to learn more, please reply below and join the conversation. Also please visit the Murals of West Seattle page on Facebook.