Bellingham Artist Makes the City His Canvas

A mural by Shawn Cass the wraps around Walsh & Dry Services on Nov.5. // Photo by Max Gleiberman

By Max Gleiberman

On July 17 a fire destroyed downtown pet store Hohl Feed and Seed and also caused the destruction of bird alley. The mural survived the fire itself, but when the building was knocked down it was also destroyed.

Local street artist Shawn Cass’ most iconic piece, bird alley, displayed various birds and animals with a colorful, cartoonish style. The art spans the alleyway between Railroad Avenue and North State Street off of East Holly Street. 

Cass said watching the deconstruction of bird alley was sad but interesting. The building stood for over 100 years, and then suddenly, it was just gone. 

Even amid tragedy, Cass has maintained a positive attitude, and said that art is not meant to be permanent. As buildings and cities change, so should the art. 

“Art is always changing, it is not permanent,” Cass said. “That’s what I keep learning, just to keep on creating.” 

Cass said he would love to promote a “bird alley 2.0” and he thinks the city and community would be all for it. Some people have suggested painting another alley, but Cass feels it has to be in the same spot.

A portion of Bird Alley is demolished on Oct. 16. due to fire damage from the fire at Hohl Feed & Seed.

“It happened so naturally,” Cass said. “I knew the lady [owner] that worked at Hohl [Feed] and Seed. She had a passion for birds just like me. They didn’t pay me, just gave me permission to paint the wall, so for three years, I painted bird alley.”

A few other artists contributed to the alley of art, but the majority was done by Cass.

Ronnie Rodriguez, a friend of Cass’, said he was there the whole time that Cass was painting. 

“A big part of the community would come down there and tell Shawn [Cass] that they love the artwork, from homeless people to councilmen,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez said he still has pictures from the beginnings of bird alley to its end and believes it’s an important part of Bellingham history. 

Scott Thorpe, an employee at nearby shop Gathering Glass Designs, remembers when Cass first started bird alley, from when he came up with the idea to actually working on the painting. Cass pulled in friends to paint with him, as well as spray paint artists from Seattle. 

“The collaborative effort that bird alley brought about was super cool. I would always send people in that direction to check it out because it was that amazing,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe said bird alley was one of his favorite art pieces by Cass, that the scope of what he did was incredible. 

Gathering Glass Designs has always supported spray painters, Thorpe said. Twice a year, they have an all-star street artist walk to showcase the local art and would always have supplies left over.

“When he was working on bird alley, once a week he would come in and ask to borrow a ladder or some paint,” Thorpe said. “Then he would disappear and paint for the whole day before he came to return the paint and ladder.” 

Cass recently finished a new project at the Walsh and Dry Services LLC laundromat, transforming the entire outside of the building. 

The next project he will work on is a mural in a marijuana dispensary called The Joint. Cass said he will be painting an aerial view of downtown Bellingham with the harbor and bay in the background.

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