The new mural on the south-facing wall of the Woodburn Independent office was unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 27. The event, hosted by the Woodburn Downtown Association, drew nearly 100 attendees.
The mural, which depicts symbols of Woodburn's history and culture in vibrant colors, was first dreamed up by Nikki DeBuse, the former publisher of the Woodburn Independent and former vice president of the Woodburn Downtown Association. She said pulling her car into the parking lot each morning to face the huge expanse of empty wall, which was often vandalized by graffiti, was part of her motivation to propose a mural for the space.
"It's the biggest wall in downtown," DeBuse said. "And it had a lot of graffiti on it."
The Woodburn City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 allowing murals on nonresidential buildings within the city. The passing of the ordinance, DeBuse said, inspired the Woodburn Downtown Association to begin planning murals for the city's downtown as a way to beautify and revitalize the area.
In 2016, the Woodburn Downtown Association, along with Chemeketa Community College, partnered to commission artist Hector H. Hernandez to complete the mural. The project was funded partially by Oregon Community Foundation, along with local contributions.
The proposal submitted to the city's public art committee said the mural's location on the 82-by-13 foot wall was a prime spot in the city's downtown. "The mural located in this busy intersection of business will create a fresh spacious feeling," the proposal reads.
And DeBuse had a theory that a mural would deter graffiti. She said that's already proven to be effective in the weeks since the mural was installed. Graffiti appeared on the Woodburn Independent office last week, but not on the wall with the mural. "They painted another wall," DeBuse said. "It's proof that it works."
Teresa Alonso Leon, the state representative serving House District 22 and a former Woodburn city councilor, also spoke at the ceremony.
She said the mural is representative of the city's diversity. "This is a city of people who speak many different languages, but who are all able to come together and build a community," she said.
The mural was completed over the course of the past year, painted on non-woven parachute cloth. Students from Chemeketa Community College, Portland State Universtiy and MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility all contributed to the painting.
Installation of the cloth onto the wall was completed in July. Since then, Hernandez has been finishing up the final touches of the mural, painting over any gaps between the different pieces of cloth, smoothing down any bubbles between the fabric and the brick wall, and touching up details of the painting. Once he is finished, he will add a product on top of the mural to protect it from UV rays and graffiti.
The loggers painted in sepia tones on the far right side of the painting represent the city's early history. The 1785 steam locomotive rolling into the painting on the left side shows the city's history as a railroad town and the importance of trains to the city's economy. The Settlemier House painted on the far left side of the painting highlights one of the city's important historic landmarks and honors Jesse Settlemier, the founder of the city.
The area's agriculture plays a prominent role in the painting, depicted with a tulip field dominating the center of the painting and marionberry plants scattered throughout. A farmworker and cowboy are seen traveling across the tulip field, with hot air balloons floating in the background. Hernandez said all of these elements demonstrate not only the importance of agriculture to the city's economy, but the ways in which agriculture has become diversified — it is no longer purely practical, but also a boon for tourism at events like the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.
Hernandez said he highlighted the city's diversity through the depiction of traditional Mexican dancers, similar to those seen at Woodburn's Fiesta Mexicana, and with the Russian Orthodox Church, which represents the city's population of Old Believers.
Painted all across the top of the mural are large monarch butterflies, which Hernandez said represent renewal, migration and transformation.
He also decided to add a depiction of the upcoming total solar eclipse, which will be visible from Woodburn on Aug. 21, to represent the city's connection with the universe as a whole.
DeBuse, who no longer lives in Woodburn, said she was taken aback when she first saw the mural because of how effectively it represented the city.
"I hope everyone here sees themselves in this mural," DeBuse said. "It portrays all of us. To me, that was the most stunning thing."