A large-eyed gray harbor seal pops its head above the waters of the Salish Sea; strands of Bull Kelp float nearby; a Madrona tree leans into the cliff’s edge — all familiar images to Orcas Islanders.
The person behind the colorful work-in-progress on the south-facing wall of the Wausau Station Building in Eastsound is islander Stephanie Iverson. Known as much for her business signage as for the personalized murals that grace the walls of many Orcas homes, Iverson has always wanted to paint a mural in Eastsound.
“When I was approached about doing one, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “It’s been a hard year for everyone, and a lot of worrying about the state of the world. With COVID-19 we were both physically and emotionally isolated from one another. I wanted to give my community something to feel good about.”
Geoff Nelson, who bought the building about five years ago, knew he eventually wanted to do something with “the ugly back wall, to add something to the corner to make people smile.”
“I started asking around and Stephanie’s name kept coming up,” he said. “We talked. Even though I wasn’t sure of exactly what I wanted, I knew I wanted something light and non-confrontational.”
The one thing he knew he didn’t want? Orca whales.
“I know they’re iconic but they are also everywhere. I wanted the mural to highlight other familiar images. And I wanted to give back to the community,” he said.
That appreciation drives Iverson as well, just as much as reminding people of how precious Orcas and the surrounding waters are to all who call this place home.
Public murals have often played a significant role in American history. During President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, hundreds of artists were paid to paint murals on the interior walls of public buildings. The U.S. Treasury offered the first commissions to out-of-work artists whose mission was to create scenes that reflected the local community: its people, topography, industries and cultural events. Roosevelt felt that because of the Great Depression, many Americans who were unable to provide for themselves or their families were broken and demoralized. By offering them a positive and artistic view of themselves in buildings they frequently visited, he believed their faith in each other and in the country could be restored.
Iverson also hopes to spark a reaction with her work.
“While I want the image to be playful and easy to understand,” she said, “I want it also to remind people how quickly things can change and how important it is to protect this incredibly precious habitat.”
Iverson predicts it may take several more weeks before the 80-foot long and 13-foot tall mural is complete, and acknowledges she may be painting after the initial commission runs out. That won’t stop her, she added. She’s in it for the long haul.
“I hope everyone who sees this mural remembers that there’s hope for the world and for all of us in it,” she said.
For more information about Iverson’s work or to contribute to the mural project through Paypal, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her on Facebook.