October 29, 2001
A 73-foot picture comes to life
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
On a mural that will soon brighten downtown Bothell, the railroad tracks are so true-to-life you feel the need to exercise caution before stepping in front of them.
But this isn't the mural's only realistic detail. A riverboat steams along the Squak Slough as its reflection glistens in the water.
Over on Main Street, a brick building looks so real you feel you could yank a loose brick straight out of the picture. Lead artist Pat Benson explains how fellow artist Pat Pierce painted the realistic building: "She did each brick individually," she says. "It probably took her a couple of weeks."
The mural, which depicts life in Bothell around a hundred years ago, makes it easy to imagine how the world looked back then.
In one sweeping visual effect, it tells the story of Bothell's history. There's so much to see, you have to stop to take it all in‹from the children at North Creek School to the horses in the Fourth of July parade to the rooster meandering the boardwalk at the Bothell Train Depot.
The public will soon have the opportunity to witness the entire 73-foot mural for themselves.
It's expected for completion sometime in November and will bedeck the side of Seattle Home Appliance in Bothell on 101st and Main.
Manager Joe Maltase says the mural will give the community a better sense and appreciation of the past.
He adds, "We hope it will bring more people into the historic part of town to support local businesses."
The eighteen 4-by 8-foot panels that make up the mural are currently in sections in a bright open room below Paul Richards Clothing store. There, the artists and volunteers work to put it together. When completed, the separate scenes will blend nicely.
Benson directs volunteers and all artwork. On one morning, she and Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, chair of the Capital Arts Committee, take note of what's been done.
"I love the faces of the schoolchildren," remarks McAuliffe. Benson replies, "I had to use a teeny tiny brush."
Benson, along with Pierce and volunteers, has made certain that details are authentic. The mural schoolchildren stand in childlike poses, a foot turned in or one foot on top of the other.
Girls make fashion statements with big bows in their hair while boys trust suspenders to hold their pants.
Taken from old photographs, the mural is being painted in sepia tones to resemble old tintypes.
"We're actually looking at people in the photographs and putting their faces on the mural," says Benson. She mentions that the boy standing next to his bicycle is I.B Graham who at one time was the mayor of Bothell. "We tried to get everything as authentic as we could," she says and goes on to say that the old photographs helped to uncover specifics like the wording on store signs. "Even the types of windows they had, we tried to duplicate," adds Benson. Also, she researched the vegetation that grew along the Sammamish River in the 1900 era. "A lot of the blackberries weren't along the river like they are now."
Benson acquired the old photographs through Sue Kienast, president of the Bothell Historical Museum. Kienast not only provided photos, but historical props as well.
For example, in some photographs it's hard to see everything. "Some of the telephone poles have glass insulators," explains Kienast. Since the telephone poles in the photos looked more like sticks, she brought an insulator to the artists so they could have an up close prototype.
The artists' work amazes Kienast. "Watching Pat Benson paint a horse is beyond me," she says. "Looking at the eyes of the horse ... the horse is looking at you."
McAuliffe points out a unique sideline, "There are animals in this mural that are hidden."
Searching for the mouse on the woodpile or the raccoon in the ferns will offer kids as much delight as searching for Waldo in a picture of the beach full of people in red bathing suits.
After quitting her job managing medical offices, Benson pursued her passion for art. Today she paints murals for a living. Though she's being paid for her service in the mural project, she's donated over half of her fee. "I've put 200 hours [so far] into the project," she says and gives credit to the people who have pitched in and helped her, including business owners, seniors and McAuliffe. Says Benson, "We've had some 10-year- olds [come in]. They did background and telephone poles. And seniors have painted horses and carriages."
The idea for a mural in Bothell began in 1989 and was the brainchild of the president of the Bothell Landmark Board.
The plan was for the mural to mark the centennial celebration. The Allen Building, used by the police department and later for offices, made a great place to stage the mural. Businesses donated paints, pails and brushes.
The city provided scaffolding. As the mural developed, people walked by and asked those working on it, "What are ya doin'? Could I paint?" Soon, the whole community was grabbing a brush, adding their artistic signature.
"It was such a warm community project that people could do together," recalls McAuliffe. Kienast says, "The whole project originally cost nothing."
Unfortunately, the Allen building was later taken down due to leaking problems. The mural seemed lost forever.
Recently, a new mural to replace the old one became the subject of discussion when an economic development committee began thinking of ways to enhance Bothell's downtown atmosphere.
Out of this discussion, the Capital Projects Sub-Committee formed. The group brainstormed ideas on how the community could better connect with the students and faculty attending UW Bothell and Cascadia.
"It's pretty exciting to have the college in our backyard," says McAuliffe. "We wanted the [students and faculty] to come to downtown Bothell and visit Main Street, because it's really a special place."
The committee decided to apply for a grant and see if they could get money for a mural project.
They received a $10,000 grant from the Tourism/Economic Fund of the City of Bothell. Kienast says the new mural will be almost like the old one. "Except they're refining it."
The new mural will have one other difference. It can be removed at any time‹should the building ever have to come down.
For now, more volunteers are needed to complete the task. Benson welcomes anyone with artistic ability. "I'm thinking high school and college art students," says Benson. "It would be awesome to get those people." She says the hours are flexible, "I'm pretty open to be here whenever someone can come and paint." And the work promises a good time. "It's really fun. We laugh and joke."
To volunteer, contact Pat Benson at (425) 481-1980.