Mural artist’s spirits lifted by outpouring of support and help she’s received from Oak Harbor community

Mural artist Nancy Hakala, left, is getting an assist from Oak Harbor High School student Kelsey Krueger during the downtown project.   - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Mural artist Nancy Hakala, left, is getting an assist from Oak Harbor High School student Kelsey Krueger during the downtown project.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Dark skies had threatened before but this time Nancy Hakala was taking no chances.

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” she said, standing on a platform high enough to see the rooftops in downtown Oak Harbor. “I think we’re not going to paint anymore.”

Hakala pulled on a toggle switch and down she and her apprentice, Kelsey Krueger, went, settling near ground level in time to take care of some quick cleanup work before the raindrops arrived.

Wednesday night’s light rain was the first Hakala had experienced since she arrived in Oak Harbor in early July and started the mural painting project along Pioneer Way.

She normally arrives in the mornings dressed in more layers, then peels them away as the fog lifts, revealing blue skies, the harbor and surrounding scenic mountain ranges.

“I’ve absolutely loved this job,” she said.

Hakala, from arid Auburn, Calif., has taken a liking to more than just the weather.

She said she’s been overwhelmed by the support she’s received from the Oak Harbor community. Every day, it seems, a local business or visitor stops by to offer well wishes or a helping hand in the project.

One business, Diamond Rentals, donated the aerial lift she uses and sends employees over to check on the machine’s stability and Hakala’s safety.

She’s been offered refreshments, lunch and books to learn more about Oak Harbor’s history.

The mural will resemble an open book and include seven historic images spanning seven decades, including the construction of Deception Pass Bridge in the 1930s.

“You really get to know a place when you paint it,” Hakala said.

“People are just wonderful here. You live in a little piece of paradise, for sure. I just love it.”

Hakala, whose murals grace hospitals, museums and private homes in the Sacramento area and beyond, learned of the mural project from her sister Julie Hakala, who lives in Greenbank.

Nancy Hakala normally enjoys a lengthy stay on Whidbey Island during the summer and jumped at the chance to leave a lasting piece of her work on the island.

The idea was a brainchild of Karen Mueller, owner of Wind & Tide Bookshop, who is raising money to pay for the project. Most of the money has been raised; however, Mueller is still seeking help. She is accepting donations at the bookstore on Pioneer Way.

Island Thrift has been the project’s biggest sponsor and city councilman Rick Almberg gave a significant contribution.

Sherwin-Williams has donated the paint for the mural, which is being illustrated on the sidewall of a privately-owned building at 841 Pioneer Way.

Thanks to the weather, the outpouring of support, and one hands-on helper in particular, the project is progressing well and is roughly at the halfway point.

With continued good weather, the mural should be completed by the middle of August, Hakala said.

Hakala gives ample credit to Krueger for the progress.

Hakala wanted the project to be a “teaching mural” so she could pass on her skills to local students and let them contribute.

She got her wish with Krueger, who volunteers with the project about three hours a day. Krueger is an advanced arts student from Oak Harbor High School who will be a senior in the fall.

“She’s really delightful and it’s really fun to have her work with me,” said Hakala, who also gets some help from her sister. “She actually accomplishes a lot, which is really nice.”

The mural is being done in trompe-l’oeil, an art style used to create an optical illusion with images appearing in three dimensions.

The mural shows a storybook placed upon a wooden table with other objects around it such as a cinnamon roll, and later, a coffee cup.

Krueger has been busy using a faux painting technique she learned from Hakala to mimic wood grain with  knots and cracks.

Familiar with water colors, acrylic painting is new to Krueger.

“I’ve been learning precision painting with the borders and stuff because I’ve painted most of those,” Krueger said. “I’ve been given a lot of tips.”

Krueger aspires to continue an education in fine arts after high school. She’s been enjoying lessons from Hakala, who’s painted about 24 large murals.

Hakala calls Krueger by her nickname, Milo.

“She’s been more like a best friend than a teacher,” Krueger said. “We just gab and talk and all sorts of stuff, and we go out to lunch sometimes if we’re hungry.”

More often than not, they’re not alone for long. Someone offering encouragement or a tip is often passing by.

“To take a plain, old wall and have something bright and exciting for the community, it’s just really a lovely thing,” Hakala said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates