New Oak Harbor mural sings to the Salish Sea

The council approved use of the creative arts fund for a new mural, but some aren’t thrilled.

Unanimously, the Oak Harbor City Council approved use of the creative arts fund for a new mural, although not everyone was thrilled with the choice.

“Song of the Salish Sea” is a 20-foot-by-4-foot acrylic painting on wood paneling by Port Townsend artists Nick and Kendall Mann. Their work pays homage to the spirited nature and beauty and sense of wonder found in the surrounding areas, said Parks and Recreation Director Brian Smith.

The mural will first be hung in the council chambers and eventually be moved to the interpretive center in the future clean water facility near Windjammer Park.

The mural is a busy spectacle of color and shapes, weaving Oregon grape, cedar trees, Devil’s club, foxglove and nettle through a landscape flanked by two blacktail deer. An orca leaps from the water, and a bald eagle anchors the centerpiece, symbolizing the heart of the landscape: a bridge between sky and water.

An eye beholds the viewer in the center panel, in the middle of the oceanic horizon of squares, leaves, mountains and trees.

“It’s a celebration of beauty, wonder and joy in regard to the land and waters of our area,” Smith said. “The overall essence of the piece celebrates harmony or symphonic-like vision that highlights the interconnected jewels of nature and the Salish Sea. A timeless portal into what’s truly local.”

The Bainbridge Island gallery where the piece is currently on display is moving to a smaller venue, so the opportunity to purchase the mural at a price of $10,000 has been presented, Smith said. They need to act soon, as other buyers are interested, and they only have until the gallery moves.

Installation would be accomplished in-house at the cost of a Diet Coke, Smith joked.

Councilmember Eric Marshall hoped for a stronger statement as to how this piece fits within the Art Commission’s comprehensive plan.

“It seems reactionary. Let’s be honest,” he said. “I don’t want to get into this mentality of, ‘well it’s available so we’re just going to have to get it,’ if it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do with the art plan.”

The Arts Commission’s comprehensive plan comes to council for a work session this month, Smith said. If approved, it will be adopted early fall. The acquisition of this mural does come outside of a formally adopted plan.

“It is a little reactionary just because of the timing of the closure of the gallery,” Smith said. “It’s either we move now, or we lose the opportunity, and the Arts Commission feels like this is a significant enough piece of local art and it would be in the city’s best interest to procure it.”

In the future, the comprehensive plan will lay forth procedures for procuring art, Smith said, and what the Arts Commission wants to put forth as the community’s character.

“One of the things we want to accomplish on the Arts Commission is inclusion and diversity, and we don’t really have a lot of diversity currently in our community and this is a great, big step toward that,” said Therese Kingsbury, Arts Commission Chair.

Community opinion is mixed on the new mural.

“This is a very busy piece,” Whidbey Islander Michelle Webster wrote in a comment responding to Councilmember Bryan Stucky’s Facebook post about the mural, “so busy that most people will probably walk on by and miss the significance of all the hidden meanings. If you want something that reflects the Salish Sea, I would keep looking.”

“I think this is a beautiful piece!” wrote Amy Malmkar. “I love the use of color! Our City Hall could do with a little of that!”

“I think it goes along well with the environment and the heritage of Native American culture and nature around us here in the (Northwest),” wrote Clarann Haney. “I do think it is a bit dark and abstract — a little muddled because of the colors used — but if it’s supposed to be a piece about ‘Whidbey Island cultures,’ it’s not bad.”

“It is rather cryptic in nature visually. I love the description but not a super fan of the artwork as it’s too ‘new age’ and ‘dark’ for my taste,” Morgan Cooper wrote. “How about procuring from local Whidbey artists?”

These types of discussions are what make a piece worthy, Smith said.

“All artwork is subjective,” he said. “Some people love it. Some people hate it. I think if it’s controversial that means it’s a good work of art.”

“Song of the Salish Sea” mural hanging on Bainbridge Island. (Photo courtesy of Nick and Kendall Mann)

“Song of the Salish Sea” mural hanging on Bainbridge Island. (Photo courtesy of Nick and Kendall Mann)