WALLA WALLA -- Heritage Park in downtown Walla Walla now proudly displays a $300,000 art project that took more than seven years to complete and honors the multicultural community of the city.
The art piece is titled Windows on the Past. ArtWalla, a local nonprofit dedicated to public art, started the project in 2003. It incorporates the use of parts of the Odd Fellows building facade, dating back to 1902, along with photographs representing the multicultural groups that were present in Walla Walla from 1850-1950.
The facade was going to be removed to accommodate the drive-through banking at Baker Boyer Bank in 1992. ArtWalla decided to disassemble the unique facade and reassemble it in Heritage Park, an operation Baker Boyer Bank paid for.
The facade had multiple windows that were empty, which ArtWalla decided to fill with photographs in 2003. That is when ArtWalla came up with the historical theme as well.
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"History and community was the theme of this park that is central to downtown. So history became a pretty obvious choice," said Jeana Garske, director of ArtWalla.
"The facade was built in 1902, so we decided we would bracket that with 50 years on either side -- so the images are all from 1850-1950," Garske said. "What we are doing is representing the different ethnic and cultural groups that were here during that 100-year period and that helped build the town."
In order to figure out which groups were present in Walla Walla during that time period and how best to represent each group with a photograph, ArtWalla interviewed more than 300 local families. The nonprofit had help from interns at Whitman College, Walla Walla University and the community.
Interns interviewed local families, examined photos and artifacts they had and reported back to ArtWalla.
"They would take pictures with their cell phones of what the people had and show us, and then if anything they had looked interesting, or if we wanted to pursue it further, then we would take (our photographer) and go do a professional photo shoot of whatever it was," said Jeanne McMenemy, who was in charge of art direction and digital production.
Hans Matshukat was the professional photographer who took photos of the various objects that represented each culture. McMenemy then chose which photos to put in the windows of the facade. Occasionally she created composite images using Photoshop.
"We probably looked at 10 times as many pictures as are up there, at least. Some of the families had tons (of images)," McMenemy said.
McMenemy said there were certain criteria she looked for when selecting a photo to place on the facade. The image had to be compelling, intriguing, aesthetically interesting and something that people had not seen elsewhere. The images also had to be able to be cropped into a square shape while still maintaining their integrity.
"As the artist, I wanted everything to be harmonious and intriguing," McMenemy said.
ArtWalla wanted to make sure that the images on the facade would be long lasting.
"These are colorfast and virtually indestructible," said McMenemy.
Garske said the cost for the project was about $300,000. Each square photo on the facade cost $2,500. More than 100 individual donors gave money to the project, along with multiple corporate sponsors. ArtWalla was especially lucky in that it received a grant from the local Don and Virginia Sherwood Trust for $180,000. It also was awarded a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
As the images were completed, they were added to the facade. As sections of the facade were completed, ArtWalla held dedication ceremonies, where the people who provided images for the wall could come and speak.
"We have been very moved as we had our unveiling ceremonies of the different stages as they were completed, because we asked people to come and talk if they had an image here that was from their family. People just love to do that, and the audience loves to hear it," McMenemy said.