By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: A timeless mural gets a new unveiling from

You want local color? Look around.

Many large-scale murals have caught our attention in recent months. You could say Yamhill County is crawling with walls featuring large and vivid images.

This has been the summer of murals. (See page A2.)

This newspaper profiled four new ones between late May and early September, and continues in this edition with a story on a stunning new addition. This one was painted in Sheridan by Willamina artist Natalie Fletcher.

Some standout murals you might not have noticed include one painted at the El Rancho Market on Southeast Baker by McMinnville’s Juan Ignacio, who works as Nacho.

It features a pastoral Mexican village meets Yamhill County scene that, unfortunately, is usually hidden behind parked cars. You gotta love the smiling pig in a barrel.

On Southeast Baker near Ninth, at a former music studio now housing Home Instead, people drive by too fast to appreciate the vivid and highly-detailed fantasy mural. It was painted by Karis Miller and Eddie Johnson.

The undated work depicts vineyards, a sunset, sailing ships, a gramophone and books on the wing bearing the words Create, Aspire, Read, Write and Imagine. That’s not to mention hot air balloons, with a tribute to ’60s fabulist Peter Max.

Murals tell a community story in varied ways, and the ones in McMinnville and beyond are engaging, be they prominent or obscure.

A series of prominent additions began in the spring with “The Heist,” undertaken by Will Schlough for Visit McMinnville. Second in the tourism organization’s Foundation Series, it now graces the Village Quarter building, overlooking Third Street near Irvine.

In June, the McMinnville Downtown Association unveiled Ashley Hope’s Rose Marie Caughran mural, on Cowls near Third. An interpretive sign about the life of the librarian and downtown advocate is on order and will be installed soon.

Next came the Reading Matters panorama on the east wall of the McMinnville Library, done by Elide Sanchez and Allison McClay for Start Making A Reader Today.

The quartet was completed with Brian Nichol’s large and colorful mural on the east end of the Boho Building, on First Avenue. All are evocative in their own way, using fantasy or realism to tell stories that honor a specific community advocate, depict local businesses and activities, and celebrate books and the imagination.

Add to that the McMinnville High School student mural at Joe Dancer Park and the “Fantastical Forest” mural on the Linfield campus, both featured in the last year or so, and the forthcoming “Round The Bend,” celebrating train and air travel in Yamhill County, being painted along Alpine Avenue.

The work now in progress is the next in Visit McMinnville’s Foundation Series. Stretching a community record length of 120 feet, it is the work of muralists Joel Heidel and Alejandra Merino-Heidel of Portland.

Visit McMinnville plans to add one new Foundation mural a year. The inaugural edition graces McMinnville Crest, at Alpine and Seventh.

Other local murals include the Gallery Players’ comedy/drama masks, visible only from Galloway and Second streets, and Ashley Hope’s Awaken Church mural, featuring Jesus’ words, “I am the True Vine,” on Northeast Adams. The latter is among the largest and most colorful in town, but is tucked back a bit out of the way.

There’s a third category, consisting of far too many examples to list, of low-visibility or otherwise obscure murals in McMinnville and surrounding communities. Those must wait for another day.

Then there’s “Safety First.”

Have you seen it? Likely not, for it had been all but hidden until this week.

It’s at Northeast Baker and 15th, on the northwest-facing wall of the Dollar Tree.

The story of its sudden emergence, as of this week, is a happy one that I’m delighted to tell.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the mural, which carries a note at the bottom in small print: “a cooperative effort between ODOT and the City of McMinnville Police and Fire Departments.”

John Palacios of McMinnville painted it under the auspices of an ODOT grant. But in the year and a half I’ve been in Mac, all I’ve ever seen of it was the slogan “SAFETY FIRST.”

The rest has been blocked by large recycling bins. And sometimes the plastic lids would get left up, preventing you from seeing any of it.

The central message is, “Never cross until ALL cars stop!” It is driven home by the images of a patient boy and girl waiting at the crosswalk of a two-lane, one-way street — like the one at that location.

In the mural, one car is stopping. But the other is not, as the driver is waving to someone in the other direction while passing through the crosswalk.

The mural is interesting for its use of the “here is what NOT to do” mode of instruction.

Fire Marshal Debbie McDermott explained that at the time of the mural’s commissioning, the message was a critical one for that specific location, where children and families routinely pass to and from schools and businesses in the neighborhood. That’s because it’s where Baker and Adams meet and too-fast traffic compresses.

The need endures, of course, and local merchants, parents and school folks can tell you that many drivers ignore pedestrians at that crosswalk, making it one of our more dangerous in town.

Knowing this, then peeking behind the bins one day to read the message, I was disturbed by the irony of willfully covering up a mural bearing a life-and-death message.

McDermott saw the irony, too, when it was drawn to her attention. She conferred with tenants at the complex, who expressed willingness to have the bins placed anywhere trucks could access them.

McDermott relayed that information to Recology. An order was placed to move the bins, and two days later, it was done.

All parties deserve kudos for understanding the need and quickly responding.

While most murals celebrate something of the past, present or future, this one reminds us of an important lesson. It’s a public service announcement writ 15 feet tall, and its unveiling from behind the bins is a welcome development.

Next time you pass, take a look and slow down.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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