Julie McDonald Commentary: Murals Draw ‘Selfie’ Photographers, Parking Lot Design Spurs Complaints


Visitors to downtown Chehalis can don wings for flights — at least of fancy — by posing for photos in front of the new “Lifting Up Chehalis” winged mural on the side of M&K Town Store at the corner of Market Boulevard and Boistfort Street.

“We were looking for concepts that would encourage folks to take a photo with the artwork, creating a ‘selfie wall’ of sorts,” said Annalee Tobey, executive director of the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team (CCRT).

A CCRT committee selected the “Lifting Up Chehalis” design by artist Emily von Flotow from among six submitted.

“These designs are popular and create another reason to visit our downtown,” she said.

Tobey saw teenage girls heading to homecoming dances last weekend snapping photos in front of the mural.

“I loved it!” she said. “I saw a couple of them on Facebook later and it warmed my heart.”

The pandemic and business closures proved tough for the community, but Tobey said, “This mural brings joy and lighthearted happiness. It’s fun — and we all could use more fun these days.”

Property owner Jerry Lord took part in the mural’s selection. The process involves the CCRT, which pays the costs, and building owners. The Aug. 6 request for proposals lists compensation as $1,200, excluding paint. CCRT provided the paint and primer.

As I snapped a photo of Sharon Eastman, a 30-year employee of Spiffy’s Restaurant & Bakery who now works at M&K Town Store and Sweet Inspirations, we saw a woman farther up on Northeast Boistfort posing for a picture in front of the daisies and butterfly mural on the side of Market Street Bakery. Irisa Kennedy completed that mural, called Garden Delight, in August 2020.

But not everyone is happy with murals proposed for downtown Chehalis.

At a Friday morning Renaissance Team meeting, Jo Kuehner, who is restoring the century-old San Juan Apartments on Northeast Cascade Avenue, objected to the selected design of murals on three sections of a cement retaining wall in the city’s parking lot C, behind Market Street Bakery at the corner of Boistfort and Washington Avenue. City officials proposed the mural and offered to remove plants and do power washing in preparation.

A committee reviewed the proposals and selected a vintage floral design, which Tobey described as in keeping with Chehalis as the Rose City. The simple and unassuming design also wouldn’t attract a lot of pedestrians, which Tobey said could create a safety hazard in a parking lot. Compensation for the three murals is $3,200, excluding paint.

“I don’t feel a connection with the artwork there,” Kuehner said. “It doesn’t tell a story. It doesn’t fit to me.”

“We make a very strong effort to make sure that the artwork is selected by a committee of people because we understand that everyone has different tastes,” David James, CCRT secretary and a promotion committee member, said in response to Kuehner’s comments. “We knew that you were hesitant about putting artwork on the wall next to your building. And when we did the artwork, we tried to be cognizant of that and pick something that was respectful and tasteful and classic.”

Kuehner said the artwork could be offensive to many people in the alley, which has a rich history itself that few know. The triangular San Juan building erected by Art St. John of St. John’s Garage has an underground tunnel for common heating, connecting the apartments to the former garage on Market Boulevard. Scott and Casey Forsman, of City Farm Chehalis, now own that building.

“I’ve had 25 years’ experience in marketing, and I do know what I’m saying, and I just don’t feel like there’s a story,” Kuehner said. “I don’t feel like flowers on a 40-foot wall is enhancing around my building.”

Scott Forsman agreed.

“She’s just done some marvelous things in her back alley, and she just really wants to see it blend in with her building,” he said, noting his neighbor has done an amazing job paying tribute to her family and her husband, Karl “Bud” Kuehner. “We would just like to see something that’s connected to that, especially using the color schemes that she’s used and just blending it in, so it just doesn’t look like it’s a one-off in the lot.”

Tobey said the artists can blend the colors to match the nearby buildings.

“We appreciate that, but I think it’s the pattern that seems to be the problem,” Kuehner said. “We’re proposing one solid color.”

She, the Forsmans and Bob Hall with the old St. Helens Hotel joined together to pay for cleaning up the alley, but they don’t like the proposed mural.

“It’s a fabulous alley,” Kuehner said. “We have a lot of time invested into that alley. Our alley is a really cool alley.”

She noted that students use the back alley for high school prom photos.

“We love the old buildings,” she said. “I just don’t want it ruined.”

She said she loves art, including the mural at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport, which she said tells a story.

“I’m just trying to make it better,” Kuehner said. “I think we need to have further discussion so that it’s meaningful and beneficial to Chehalis.”

James, the CCRT secretary, said he doesn’t want to upset the building owners with a project that offends them.

Earlier in the meeting, Randy Mueller, chief executive officer at the Port of Chehalis who plans to train his replacement before leaving Nov. 30 for the Port of Ridgefield, offered his update and then weighed in on downtown murals.

Thirty people applied for his Chehalis job and, after narrowing it to 12 and then five semifinalists, he said port commissioners now have three well-qualified finalists who will be interviewed Wednesday. Port commissioners could decide on Mueller’s replacement at their Thursday meeting.

After his report, Mueller mentioned the controversy over the Chehalis parking lot murals.

“From the port’s perspective, as well as my perspective personally, we just couldn’t be bigger fans,” he said. “This kind of work is important. It’s what Main Street programs do.”

He noted that art is subjective.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” he said. “Don’t lose faith. Just keep in mind that you’re the ones that have stepped forward … It’s really easy for people to armchair quarterback this stuff and sit on the sidelines.”

Mueller’s comments offended Kuehner.

“I think I should be heard,” she said. “I’ve served my time. I’ve lived here my whole life since third grade. My husband and I did some great things in the community.

“It just really hurts my feelings that when you have a project like you have, and I worked so hard to make my building look nice and to be a good citizen, that I shouldn’t have the ability to have some say before they start painting,” Kuehner said.

Tobey said the parking lot mural is on hold for now.

The CCRT has printed 2,700 copies of a 16-page coloring and activity book called Color Chehalis! for distribution at preschools, grade schools, local museums and other venues. It also is seeking artists to create Chehalis-themed postcards for local merchants to sell.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.