I apologize in advance for breaking my recent string of rather depressing articles about happenings in the neighborhood, but the Law of Averages (which may be up for repeal by the Supreme Court next year) says that every now and then, Wallyhood will post a nice, happy article. Rest assured, we will soon be back to our normal steady fare of gloom—so don’t chuck those antidepressants, boxed wines, and other mood-altering crutches just yet.
I had seen a recent Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert photo essay on artist Norma Baum, showing her working on the restoration of Patrick Gabriel’s 1996 mural that graces the north side of N. 38th Street and under Aurora Avenue. I tend to overuse the adjective “iconic”, but I think it’s an appropriate term for this mural—certainly at the neighborhood level. It had, like many other façades across the city, fallen into a state of disrepair and was the increasing target of tags and graffiti. However, the Fremont Arts Council provided a grant to local/Fremont artist Baum to restore the mural. The original artist, Patrick Gabriel, had relocated to Florida and apparently wanted nothing to do with the project. In fact, Gabriel wanted to simply have it painted over. However, the Seattle Times had sponsored the original painting, and the city had the final say over its fate. Since 2004, spot repainting was performed by neighbors in Wallingford and Fremont. But after the dark days of the pandemic that took a toll everywhere, it was time to do thorough, comprehensive restoration. So this story has a happy ending (thank you Fremont Arts Council and artist Baum!). Norma has volunteered her time and has worked steadily on its restoration, carefully referencing photos and other records of the original painting . She is just about done.
I found her working on a sunny Sunday on the finishing touches, mostly along the upper borders of the mural. She was being helped by Daniel Tadesse, who was there simply because he is a nice guy who wanted to help. But it turns out that Daniel has a professional interest as well: he works for Seattle Public Utilities on a program that explores how to understand and reduce tagging and graffiti around the city. We chatted about the culture of tagging and graffiti and I freely admitted that I didn’t understand that world. Daniel suggested taking a look at this Stranger article by Jas Keimig on Seattle’s approach as a primer.
But putting aside the sociology, artistic underpinnings, and law enforcement implications of the bigger picture…let’s just celebrate the uplifting colors and the whimsy of this mural. Personally, it gives me a little boost every time I drive past it, and I’m glad that it’s renewed.