The Mid-Willamette Valley is home to a rich history - find out where it's captured through local murals.
The Mid-Willamette Valley is home to a rich history, natural and otherwise: The Kalapuya have spent millennia fishing, hunting, and gathering in the region; generations of farmers have tilled the region's fertile soils; and our outdoor ecosystems display a natural beauty unlike anywhere else in Oregon.
Much of that history, stretching back thousands of years, has been captured on splashy murals throughout the mid-Willamette Valley; from the bustling downtown core in Salem to some of the area’s quieter communities, the region’s pioneering past and exciting present have taken center stage in a variety of colorful, creative presentations.
And Norm English, president of the Silverton Mural Society, thinks that’s a history with preserving, sharing, and celebrating. “It’s important to know where we’ve been and how we got here,” he says.
So if you’d like to see some of the area’s murals, here’s where to go, what to watch for – and what makes each mural (or collection of murals) so special.
Artists have found plenty of inspiration in Salem's natural spaces – and how we interact with our environments – in creating a handful of colorful displays in the city's downtown area.
Damien Gilley's "Mirror Maze" mural, for instance, draws on the glass-paneled buildings nearby to invite visitors to contemplate how they engage with modern, urban environments. Gilley drew on ideas of structure, community, and reflection in creating the brightly colored mural, which can be viewed on a rounded wall in the alley between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE.
Nearby, the towering "Waldo Stewards" mural (painted by Blaine Fontana) honors Salem's Waldo Park – the world's smallest redwood park. The painting, adorned with woodpeckers and other vibrant graphics designed to evoke notions of discovery, covers the east stairwell of the Chemeketa Parkade at 338 Commercial St NE; at several stories tall, it's almost impossible to miss.
Finally, James Mattingly's "Theatrical Heartscape" honors the rich history of the Elsinore Theater through depictions of iconic names in vaudeville and cinema – including W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin. Notably, the mural puts the Elsinore Theater into a broader context that expands beyond the city’s borders. “It doesn’t necessarily tell a Salem story,” says Christine D'Arcy, chair of the Salem Public Art Commission. “It tells a story about theater life in the early 20th century.” The mural can be viewed on the rear wall of the Elsinore Theater at 170 High St SE.
As for what D'Arcy hopes visitors get from seeing these murals up-close?” It’s simple: “I hope they have fun,” D'Arcy says. “This is an experience for all ages.”
Just northwest of Silver Falls State Park, the cozy community of Silverton is home to a rich history worth celebrating – and it does so with more than 30 murals dotting its downtown core.
One mural, for instance, celebrates the pioneers of the Oregon Trail by depicting a tired family resting against its covered wagons. Another honors the Silver Falls Timber Company, which was among the largest sawmills in Oregon in the early 20th century. And yet another showcases Silver Falls State Park, made famous by local photographer June Drake in the 1920s.
“It’s important to know how a community got to where it is,” English says. “Oftentimes, it’s individual stories about people – events they participated in and were a part of – and it’s just important to know that a community didn’t just drop out of the sky.”
In particular, English singles out the Silver Falls Timber Company mural as an important piece of the community’s history. “We had one of the largest sawmill operations in the Northwest,” he says. “They had such a large operation that when they ran a 10-hour shift, they could produce more than 200,000 board feet of lumber. It employed a lot of people, and it was quite an operation.”
Those interested in viewing the works, each painted by a local artist, can download the free Silverton Mural Society app (available for iPhone and iPad). The app shows where to find all the murals and goes into detail on what (or who) each represents and honors.
A trio of murals in downtown Woodburn explore the city’s history and add a touch of natural beauty to the already vibrant community in the heart of Willamette Valley farm country.
In particular, Portland artists Jeffrey Sincich and Josh Stover made a point to connect with the community’s past and present with a pair of murals in downtown.
One is a 200-foot-long painting that pays tribute to the Pix Theatre, which once showed movies in downtown Woodburn and was noted for its iconic sign. (That sign’s design is faithfully recreated in the painting.) “It looks like you can almost walk into the building,” says Amanda Setzer-Lemon, economic development specialist for the City of Woodburn, about the creative design.
Elsewhere in downtown, Sincich and Stover have painted a large mural to add a bit of color to the Dahlia Plaza “pocket park” at 333 North First St. Naturally, the painting is of a few vibrant dahlias, which helps liven up the concrete-heavy park.
Roughly two miles away is a colorful mural from Oregon artist Hector H. Hernandez; the mural’s many highlights pay tribute to the people, places, and industries that have made Woodburn such a bustling community – including the Settlemier House (which dates back to 1892), a steam locomotive, the annual Fiesta Mexicana celebration (which honors the region’s farm workers and celebrates the end of harvest), a Russian Orthodox Church, and the colorful fields at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. The mural sits on the side of the Woodburn Independent newspaper building at North Pacific Highway and Mt. Hood Avenue.
Setzer-Lemon says that, taken together, the murals communicate something unique and important about Woodburn’s community pride. “We want visitors to feel what we feel from the community all the time,” she says. “It’s a very vibrant, loving community, and we want to give our due respect to the people and the history.”
Set in the mid-Willamette Valley, the community of Mt. Angel is synonymous with its German-inspired history and culture that pervades buildings and experiences around town – such as its iconic Oktoberfest celebration every fall.
In 2018, a mural honoring that charm – painted by David McDonald of Silverton – was installed on the Mt. Angel Community Festhalle (500 Wilco Hwy NE).
The 26-foot-wide mural features dancers in lederhosen and dirndl dancing around the city's Oktoberfest Joy fountain. The mural draws its inspiration from both the community it depicts and from Bavarian beer halls – where large murals are commonplace. Other local landmarks, such as the Mount Angel Abbey and the city's Glockenspiel, can be seen on the painting, as well.
In recent years, the city of Monmouth has made its mark on the region's mural scene with an inventive work that displays the city’s storied past – both before and after European settlement.
One mural depicts a religious school founded in Monmouth more than 150 years ago, the Kalapuya people who have called the region home for millennia, and other symbols of Monmouth's history.
The 23-foot-long painting was created by Oregon artist Roger Cooke, who has painted more than 50 historic murals in five states, and can be seen on the Knecht's Auto Parts building at 401 Main St. E.