More than words: Silverton’s mural program captures the heart of the city’s charm

Several of Oregon’s small towns have murals, but they haven’t been able to replicate the number and variety offered in Silverton. Here, muralist Tonya Smitherberg touches up the Homer Davenport mural, with the help of an apprentice. Davenport was a famous cartoonist and author who lived in Silverton.

Credit: Courtesy photo
Several of Oregon’s small towns have murals, but they haven’t been able to replicate the number and variety offered in Silverton. Here, muralist Tonya Smitherberg touches up the Homer Davenport mural, with the help of an apprentice. Davenport was a famous cartoonist and author who lived in Silverton.

Silverton has more murals than most towns in Oregon – and they are impressive.

Thanks to the efforts of the Silverton Mural Society and seven local artists, an array of murals was created between 1992 and 2013 to capture the uniqueness of the small town with myriad personalities and historical features.

“Silverton is very proud of its murals and the heritage they represent in our community,” says Mayor Rick Lewis.

The murals are one of the most important attractions not only for tourism, but also for Silverton citizens, he adds.

Of note

View Silverton’s murals on Saturday, Oct. 1, and hear lots of great music during the city’s annual Silverton Sidewalk Shindig. Dozens of musicians will be playing downtown from noon to 10 p.m. Pick up a schedule from one of several local shops.

“We have people coming from all over the world to see our murals,” says Jim Squires, president and a co-founder of SMS, which formed in 1992. “The first mural was Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” in 1992. Now we’re up to 31 murals that we maintain. We have another 15 ready to go up. We’re making sure every mural looks like new until we put up any more.”

No day goes by without him seeing someone snapping a photo of a mural, Squires says.

“A few murals were not done by the mural society,” he adds. “As time went by, we picked them up and started to maintain them.”

Prior to the formation of the Silverton Mural Society, artist David McDonald painted a mural, “Mammoth Camera,” on the exterior wall of Portrait Express on N. Water Street. He also painted a mural of a pioneer family and their Conestoga wagon along the Oregon Trail on the west wall of Bethany Market at Bethany.

McDonald painted nine murals all total, including “The Four Freedoms” and Silverton’s “9-11 Memorial” murals. He also painted “Homer Davenport,” a mural depicting Silverton’s famous hometown cartoonist and author.

Lori Lee Webb painted five murals, including the “Gallon House Bridge,” and has gone on to paint several murals for Oregon State Parks and in nearby towns such as St. Paul.

photo

Courtesy photo

Silverton resident Jim Squires stands in front of the “Gallon House Bridge” mural, painted for a covered bridge just outside of Silverton. Squires used to promote a box lunch social to raise funds to get the first mural painted.

Now deceased, Roger Cooke painted “Mr. and Mrs. Claus” and “Doug Brown, Champion Cowboy.” He built a national reputation as an artist while living and working from his studio on the bank of the Sandy River.

A former Knott’s Berry Farm gunfighter and Civil War reenactor, Kelly Farrah, painted “Silverton Red Sox” and “Silverton Air Field.” Some of the paintings and props he made during 35 years of working on films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Kathryn Bennett joined the Silverton Mural Society with hopes of becoming a muralist. She spent several summers restoring weather and vandal damage to the local murals before painting “Paws for Love.”

Local graphic designer Larry Kassell created “Keith Kaser” and “The Veterans Poem.” He believes viewers should take away a message as well as viewing the featured persons.

And lastly, Tonya Smithburg graduated from touching up Webb’s “Gallon House Bridge” to painting “The Harvey Mikkelson Steam-Up Festival” on the side of the Elks Lodge.

Squires says the Silverton Mural Society acknowledges all the talented artists who, as the Society’s murals booklet says, “lend their expertise and skill to the ongoing painting, planting, maintenance and publicity.”

According to the early history of the SMS, the murals became a reality, driven by founding members like Patti Geddes, who dreamed of bringing murals to Silverton like those she and her husband, George, viewed in Chemainus, B.C., Canada.

For more than two decades, former U.S. Air Force Sgt. Vince Till directed the effort with his “git-‘er-done” attitude and “a ready smile for mural visitors … and a dog biscuit for their canine friends.” The tireless energy on the murals by Till and his wife Babs, earned them Silverton’s First Citizen award in 1999.

Funds are raised through donations and events, including the first two fundraisers, a chicken barbecue dinner at the Silverton Elks Lodge and a box lunch social auction in downtown Silverton.

“Some $13,000 was brought in at the box social,” says Squires, who acted as auctioneer. “Everyone dressed in period attire. When you walked down Main Street, it was like you walked back in time. It was so much fun.”

According to Squires, Silverton Mural Society members also take part in the city’s clean-up day, participate on the Tourism Grant Board, and help with the Silverton Sidewalk Shindig. The fifth annual family-friendly Shindig will have close to 100 venues providing about 120 hours of nonstop live music throughout downtown Silverton from noon to evening Saturday, Oct. 1.

“We’d love to create more murals,” Squires says. “But we need to focus on what we’ve got, make them shine, and then we’ll do a little.”

The Silverton Mural Society offers walking tours by appointment and provides a self-guided tour map of the murals in their brochure. Also, the “Silverton Murals” booklet contains photographs and history of the murals and is available from Squires for a cost of $10.

“Proceeds go to the mural maintenance fund,” says Squires, who can be reached by calling 503-509-0592.

Other Marion/Polk cities with murals include Monmouth, Independence, Dallas, Mill City, Woodburn, Keizer and Salem.

“It’s catching on,” Squires says. “The mayor of Florence recently came to view the murals. They are considering creating a few of their own.”

For more information, visit the Silverton Mural Society Facebook page or message Squires at jdsquires@wavecable.com.

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