A young man with a paint brush and cans of spray paint spent Saturday turning the side of a building into a medley of images that represent Oak Harbor, from a seaplane to an oak tree.
Forest Wolf Kell is one of many artists who will be filling the walls surrounding a parking lot on Pioneer Way with unique murals as part of a project envisioned and sponsored by Sarah Schacht.
“I decided I could turn those uninteresting concrete walls into something really vibrant and interesting and cool downtown,” she said.
Schacht’s grandparents, John and Myrtle Allgire, founded the Casual House in downtown Oak Harbor and were known for being strong supporters of community activities. Their daughter Jill Schacht — Sarah Schacht’s mother — owned the business after them and was also very well known in the community.
Sarah Schacht follows in their footsteps when it comes to affection and support for downtown.
In the small parking lot between two Pioneer Way buildings she owns — the “Skinner building” and 720 Pioneer Way — she is creating an outdoor art gallery of sorts and a vibrant space for events. She sees the mural as a way to attract more people to the area.
“I think it’s worth investing in downtown,” she said.
Schacht had several inspirations for the project. She named the effort the “Allgire Project” in memory of her grandparents and their support for the arts. Her grandmother “loved colors and textures” while her grandfather was quietly an artist.
“He was really humble about it, but he had a real passion for art,” she said.
Another inspiration is a mural hidden inside one of the buildings. In 1940, a mural was commissioned by the USO club that had been in 720 Pioneer Way building in 1940. It was painted by an enlisted man in the Navy and showed an imagined but dramatic scene of Navy planes bombing Nazi ships in Puget Sound.
To protect it, Allgire had drywall placed over the mural in the 1960s. He taped a message on the wall with a story from the Whidbey News-Times about the mural.
Schacht is very curious about what the mural looks like now and hopes someday to open up the wall and display the mural, which she sees as an important part of the city’s history.
Also, Schacht said she was inspired by the famous mural-covered Wynwood Walls in Miami, which was an idea conceived to revitalize a warehouse district. Schacht hopes that murals can do something similar for downtown Oak Harbor.
Finally, Schacht credits Therese Kingsbury for doing so much over the years to revitalize the downtown area with art.
Full of inspiration, Schacht contacted the Seattle company Overall Creative to help her with finding the artists and managing the project.
Kathleen Warren, the company’s co-founder, said more than 100 artists, including some local ones, responded to a call out. The idea is to have a range of styles to represent the city’s history, culture, ecology and industry in different ways.
Noted Seattle muralist Lina Cholewinski did the first mural free hand; it’s a vibrant mosaic with conspicuous strawberries.
Schacht wanted to get a couple of murals up before the Oak Harbor Music Festival at the end of the month. The parking lot will be the children’s area for the event. Schacht is planning a “paint by number” mural on the back wall for the kids to fill in.
To keep the Allgire Project fun and interesting — and to keep people coming back — the murals will be temporary. No mural will last more than two years, though the images will undoubtedly live on indefinitely as the background of hundreds of selfies.