Faded murals, signs coming back to life
Things are looking a whole lot brighter in our little Wild West downtown, thanks to the “Let’s Paint Winthrop” campaign.
What began as one businesswoman’s idea to revitalize the main street buildings by repainting the signs and murals has become a highly visible public effort with brilliant results. Now, as each mural and sign in Winthrop is slowly but surely being repainted, the original freshness of the downtown corridor is being revealed.
Last winter, Nilsine Harris pulled together a committee to raise funds for and manage operations of the “Let’s Paint Winthrop” campaign. Wisely, she selected Carol Lester, a longtime Winthrop resident who, along with her husband John, was a business owner when Winthrop first underwent Westernization in the early 1970s.
It’s important to Lester that business owners carry forward this legacy of Westernization, which was made possible by a gift from the Wagner family. “Our local economy was in sharp decline,” Lester says. “Westernization gave us a boost. We need to maintain the town in a way that honors that history.”
Lester recognizes that asking — or requiring — individual businesses or building owners to repaint would be a burden for some, so she and Harris are taking a holistic approach.
“The signs and murals are being repainted as a unit,” Lester says. “It will take a couple of years, but we are looking at all signs and murals as part of this project, regardless of whose building they are on.”
Also, Lester adds, with the whole-project approach, “one sign won’t outdo another, one building won’t outdo another, and everyone won’t be competing for the same few painters who are qualified to do this kind of work.”
Work to date
So far, the all-volunteer crew has tackled the well-known mural on the side of Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon, featuring man and beast bonding over healing ointment, and a tiny mural that packs a punch on the side of Meza, which hawks Lydia Pinkham’s vegetable compound as a cure for various female weaknesses. (With a purported alcohol content of 18%, it’s possible the tincture never cured ailments, but simply rendered the consumer unaware of them.) They’ve also completed the cash machine mural on the side of the Tenderfoot, as well as various small signs.
As the committee raises funds, they’re using them to purchase paint, which is then deployed by volunteer artist Marti Darling, who was part of the original Westernization painting, under the tutelage of the late Leavenworth painter Chet Endrizzi. The materials have changed since the 1970s, Darling says, but the principles remain the same: create an antique effect consistent with the Western aesthetic.
Darling refurbished the mural at Jack’s before turning her attention to the North Cascades mural at the Tenderfoot, which is being redone in a slightly different fashion. While the previous mountain mural was a sketch with prominent white-capped peaks, the new version is much more like an artist’s rendering of an aerial view of the mountains, with a broad view of topography — the valleys included along with the peaks.
It’s fitting, Darling says, since the original mural looked more like a topographic map. “I wanted to go back to the topographic look,” she says. “I wanted to acknowledge Endrizzi and [late signmaker] Brad [Pinkerton], but also put a little bit of Marti in it.”
How it gets done
Time for painting is limited to a couple of early morning hours each day, partly because of the heat and partly as a courtesy to visitors. Also, some of the volunteer painters, like Harris (who owns Shotgun Nellies), are business owners and need to open up their shops.
There’s also prep work to be completed on many of the buildings, some of which require pressure washing to remove dust and soot. One black building near the four-way intersection emerged brown after its hosing-down: a sort of preliminary facelift before the repainting job.
There’s much work ahead, but the excitement is palpable. Lester reports seeing more and more people taking pictures of the refreshed murals and “oohing and ahhing about the signs.” It’s the same excitement, Lester says, that they saw in 1972, adding “Marti and Nilsine are doing a fantastic job.”
When you see the original signs next to the refurbished signs, it’s immediately apparent that this effort is long overdue. In the same way that your dirty window seems fine until you clean the one next to it, suddenly all the signs and murals in town seem to be crying out for a fresh coat of paint.
Be patient, Lester counsels. They’re getting it, one brushstroke at a time.
For more information about Let’s Paint Winthrop, including the Sept. 15 “Sip and Stroll” event to benefit the project, visit: https://winthropwashington.com/paint/.