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Bellingham
Friday, May 14, 2021

Western alum paints largest mural in Washington state

By Joely Johnson

 

Bellingham’s art scene grew exponentially with the addition of the largest mural in Washington state.

The mural that previously claimed this title, “Remembrance Wall” in Vancouver, Washington, is 630 feet long, according to the Clark County Mural Society, and about 9 feet tall, making it around 6,037 square feet. However, Bellingham’s newest mural on the back wall of Dewey Griffin Subaru on Iowa Street is 330 feet in length. The building’s height ranges from 25 to 27 feet tall, with the mural covering over 8,200 square feet in total.

This mural is one of many in this artist’s style. Each of his pieces feature vibrant colors and quirky creatures, and every one is vastly different from the next. But they all have one thing in common, a simple signature: “henry.”

That is the pseudonym for the artist Ryan Henry Ward, who grew up in Montana and later went on to study at Western. He crafted his own major through the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Ward’s degree combined writing, art and storytelling for children, according to his website.

Ward said attending school at Western helped him to develop as an artist.

“I developed my belief in creativity. I think that’s the main thing that college helped me with; the solid foundation that I am a creative force of the universe, that I am an artist,” Ward said.

Ward currently resides in Seattle, where he has painted more than 180 murals around the city.

“I developed my belief in creativity. I think that’s the main thing that college helped me with; the solid foundation that I am a creative force of the universe, that I am an artist.”

Ryan Henry Ward, mural artist

Tanya McKinney, who handles marketing and digital media at Dewey Griffin Subaru, said painting the mural was owner Dick Meyer’s way of giving back to the community.

“It’s a 54,000-square-foot building, and it’s quite a footprint. We’ve been here since 1957, and [the mural] was his way of saying thank you for letting us take such a large footprint,” McKinney said.

And with a large footprint, comes a large mural.

“It’s about the size of a football field in length,” McKinney said.

Despite its size, Ward was able to complete the mural at a rapid pace.

“I think he worked really quickly,” McKinney said. “I would say [he took] about three weeks to a month.”

The mural catches the eye of onlookers with its bright colors and cartoon-like animals living out a typical Pacific Northwest lifestyle, per the request of Dewey Griffin Subaru.

“We wanted something to represent the Pacific Northwest,” McKinney said. “That’s why there’s a bunch of animals everywhere. You know, that sort of thing. Just the Pacific Northwest and Washington and what our community is about.”

Although Ward was given guidelines, McKinney said the final product is representative of his own creative freedom.

As a former Bellingham resident, Ward understood what Dewey Griffin Subaru wanted when the staff asked for something representative of the Pacific Northwest.

“My idea was to paint stuff that was Bellingham, stuff that people who drive Subarus like to do,” Ward said. “I based it around activities like camping, skiing and snowboarding — kinda outdoor recreation.”

Ward also did a small-scale project on the inside of Dewey Griffin Subaru as well. He transformed the once blank playroom into a scene filled with his classic henry-style cartoon creatures.

“He did a nice job,” McKinney said. “He really transformed the space into something just amazing.”

Henry’s murals are not only for the eyes of car shoppers, though. Many Western students have witnessed other works by the muralist in their everyday lives.

“We wanted something to represent the Pacific Northwest, that’s why there’s a bunch of animals everywhere. You know, that sort of thing. Just the Pacific Northwest and Washington and what our community is about.”

Tanya McKinney, Dewey Griffin Subaru employee

Sophomore and computer science major Martin Smith sees henry murals often in Seattle.

“Every time I go out, I can expect to see something with his name on it,” Smith said. “They are everywhere and nowhere, you just have to be on the lookout.”

Sophomore May Killorin agrees the sporadic appearances of henry’s murals is just a part of the viewer experience.

“Even just driving somewhere, you can easily see one of them and be like, ‘Oh, that’s one of his pieces. That’s weird, that’s funny that’s there,’” Killorin said. “They’re everywhere like that, but kind of spread out at the same time.”

Smith has a specific favorite that he sees every day, near his home.

“It’s a bunch of wacky creatures in a bar. There’s a big pink walrus playing pool,” Smith said. “Who comes up with that kind of stuff?”

Killorin said she thinks Ward’s connection to Western could give students pursuing unconventional degrees encouragement that they can be successful in the real world.

“That makes me feel like even the people who do artsy stuff at Western can actually do the art stuff they do out in the world, or in bigger cities like Seattle,” Killorin said.

Ward said he believes there are no limitations to what students can and can’t do.

“I would say you can do anything you want in this world,” Ward said. “You just have to be willing to put the hard work in, nothing’s coming easy. If you’re willing to work for it, you can do anything.”

Bellingham’s new henry addition has attracted some Western students interested in the arts.

“I actually went and looked at the mural the moment I heard it was done,” Smith said. “It made me feel like I was at home. I’m really happy it’s there.”

Smith’s appreciation is exactly what Dewey Griffin Subaru was hoping for when the staff decided to have the mural painted.

“People love it, absolutely love it, ” McKinney said. “And I’m so glad because that’s kind of the idea.”

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