Striking murals decorate Powellhurst-Gilbert street

Discover the many reasons this public artwork is welcomed by neighborhood residents …

Volunteers say they’re hopeful that drivers will slow down, instead of zooming by these new murals gracing outer East Portland.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

A well-used avenue in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood brings back sad memories of a little girl who was killed crossing SE 136th Avenue just north of Ellis Street in 2013.

New sidewalks installed since then along the avenue have helped improve pedestrian safety.

And, thanks to interested neighbors and a talented artist, two murals now grace SE 136th Avenue between Holgate Boulevard and Harold Street.

Finishing the project is muralist Nickalas Goettling.

“I got involved, fulfilling a standard Request for Qualifications from the Regional Arts and Culture Council,” remarked artist Nickalas Goettling, as he and volunteers completed the public artwork.

A mural on the east-side concrete retaining wall – the more imaginative of the two – is 5 feet tall by 200 feet long, and the west side wall, featuring the neighborhood’s name, is also about 5 feet tall by about 140 feet long.

“The mural project came to my attention because there’s been a lot of work here, with neighbors and some student artists, who got the ball rolling; I came in near the halfway point of the project,” Goettling told East Portland News.

Gateway resident Sarah Bachtel says she learned about the project while driving home from church, decided to help out, and has volunteered about 50 hours in the painting of the mural.

He commented that he was challenged to incorporate the artistic suggestions and themes solicited up to that point, and create a unified concept. “In the process of researching designs, I learned a great deal about the community; its history, demographics and social issues.

“The most interesting part of the project for me has been working and learning using a history,” opined Goettling. “After gathering all of this information, the arduous task followed of eliminating about 95% of what I’ve learned, because you can’t put it all on a wall.”

Perhaps because this neighborhood street looks more like a narrow country road, cars and trucks go zooming past – most of them traveling much faster than the posted speed limit.

Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association Board Member Dolores Wood helps finish the new mural.

“Because people drive so fast, and since there are a number of places where children cross the street, we’ve seen some tragic traffic incidents here,” commented project volunteer – and Chair of the neighborhood’s Greening Committee – Dolores Wood.

“In honor of the little girl who was hit and killed while crossing the street, one of our themes is to incorporate some of her favorite images: She liked hearts and balloons, so these are some of the elements that we are including in our pictures,” explained Wood.

The mural’s artwork is stylized, yet realistic.

About the style, Wood – herself a noted fine artist – explained, “You’ll see, when you come by the wall, that the colors are predominantly blue and red – kind of like driving by while wearing 3-D glasses.

“We pieced together the history of the area using a shadow effect to draw it all together in segments,” remarked Wood. “And, there are maps in between the major segments, to show where some of these events occurred.”

She’s enjoyed the mural process, Wood reflected. “When people come by, they often honk and wave, to show their appreciation. I believe they enjoy having public art here, where people can see some of the history of our neighborhood, and take pride in where we live.”

As the month of September ended, the mural project drew to a conclusion.

Cleaning his paint brushes, Goettling said he’s enjoyed working with the community. “It’s surprising how many people stop; talk – and some of them have come back to volunteer with the project. It’s great, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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