Driving over the Nooksack River bridge and onto Main Street in downtown Ferndale, something just might catch your eye a few blocks beyond your immediate view. Todd Bruce’s two-story mural, “Wallflowers” adorns an alleyway wall in the center of historic downtown. The piece appears to climb over the two-story brick building, adding flashes of bright color in the form of huge painted flowers.
Bruce’s piece is one of six murals completed in Ferndale this past summer as part of the Downtown Mural Project. The project was spearheaded by Ferndale City Council member Rebecca Xczar with the support of the Ferndale Arts Commission. The commission’s mission is to “enhance the community by advising on public art and community aesthetic enhancement,” according to the Ferndale Arts Commission website.
The six murals were the next stage in the Downtown Mural Project, which began the previous summer with two installations. When Xczar told the commission of her goal to bring five new murals to town in 2019 they cautioned her that such an undertaking might not be possible. “[The Arts Commission said], ‘You might get two done,’ when I said I wanted five. We did six—and it nearly killed me,” she jokes.
Xczar was inspired to begin the project after attending a planning conference where the speaker asked, ‘How many places in your town are ‘Instagram-worthy?’” A slightly silly question, perhaps, but Xczar appreciated the idea. Instagram-worthy places bring people to a community who are then likely to spend their time and money in local businesses.
Beyond bringing new visitors to Ferndale, the murals bring a sense of community pride, Xczar says. “Art can have a big impact.”
The six murals completed this summer vary significantly in design. However, Xczar said the pieces were chosen and designed based on a common theme. The Arts Commission wanted to bring new, modern art to Ferndale without clashing with the already existing murals.
A good example of the blending of new with old is Bruce’s “Wallflowers” mural, located on Main Street next to McKay’s Antiques and Variety. The mural resides across the alley from an older piece that shows a flower shop scene. The florals in each piece bring them together, though the difference in style keep each unique.
“Wallflowers” and Brenda Goddard’s “Spirit of Kulshan” were commissioned murals funded by the City of Ferndale. The remaining four murals completed this summer were funded by a $2,000 Project Neighborly grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation.
The Project Neighborly grant provides funds for projects that bring communities together through group projects, events, recreation activities and more, according to the Whatcom Community Foundation website.
The murals funded by the grant were completed through a huge volunteer effort and the designs were submitted by a variety of community members in informal ways. For example, Colleen Harper, Ferndale Arts Commissioner, just doodled an abstract stream-like design. Harper’s piece now brings life to the parking lot of U.S. Bank on Main Street.
Xczar wanted the volunteer pieces to adorn the ground rather than the walls of downtown Ferndale, which presented a few new challenges. “Asphalt absorbs a lot of paint,” she says. The street sucked up the paint like a sponge, quickly eating through the $2,000 grant budget. Xczar had to play around with the type of paint to use on the asphalt, ultimately using the same paint that creates striping on the road, which limited their color options.
A few blocks down Main Street, former Ferndale High School student Guyan Cool’s designs adorn the ground of two alleyways. Dancing feet line the passage, complete with instructions for popular dances like the Cha-cha. On the other side of Main Street, large green circles dot the ground with flowers. Each type of flower was painted by a volunteer as part of the community effort.
Possibly the most “Instagram-worthy” of the murals was designed by Xczar and her husband/ fellow Arts Commissioner, Kyle Deming. The mural decorates the wall adjacent to Cool’s dancing feet with colorful rain dripping down the wall and a large black umbrella. “We really wanted to get one that said ‘Come here and take your picture,” says Xczar.
The rain drops effect was accomplished by filling large medical syringes with paint at the top of the building and letting the drips run all the way to the ground. The piece was completed with paint leftover from the other murals.
Historic downtown Ferndale now has a piece of public art in every alley, Xczar says. “With art, you’ve just got to let it do its thing and not worry too much about it.”