In 1995, a Port Townsend woman named Kim Kopp spent several months in Sequim painting murals that were reflective of the history and heritage of the town. In the early 2000s they were taken down after a business owner threatened to destroy them as part of a construction project, and, for years they sat in storage, waiting to be shared with the city again.
Thanks to Sequim Museum & Arts, those murals are again seeing the light of day.
“We’re committed and very passionate about this project,” museum Executive Director Judy Reandeau Stipe said.
“These murals are an important piece of the heritage of this town, and we want people to be able to see that again.”
The murals, originally 154 feet by 16 feet depicted numerous people from around Sequim, as well as different historical landmarks from the area, on the side of the old Lehman’s Meat Market/Lehman’s Mark & Pak (now the Lehman Court building).
“I was one of several artists who applied to do the work,” said Kopp. “I thought that putting in faces and portraits of people from Sequim and their families, and the people who helped build Sequim, would be a way to share that history.”
Kopp said that more than 30 portraits of people both living in town at the time and some of their ancestors wound up in the finished mural. She added that it took her 13 months in all to complete the work on the mural, which lead to some logistical challenges in finding ways to work around inclement weather during the fall and winter.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of hard work, but I was glad to bring that history to light,” Kopp said. “That was one darn big painting!”
A sudden reversal
When the market closed in 2001 and new ownership took over and converted the building, Stipe said, the new ownership requested the murals’ removal. In January 2002, the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce voted to void an agreement to keep the then 6-year-old mural standing for at least 20 years.
That decision meant that much of the original mural was lost.
“Because I was working across the face of a building, there wasn’t just one material I was painting over,” Kopp said. “Some of it was on signboard that you could just unscrew and take down and some of it was on plywood that could be cut out. But some of the mural was actually on a foam material glued over plate glass, and some of it was on stucco that was part of the wall.
“On a technical level, a lot of it just couldn’t be saved. That was so unfortunate.”
Kopp wasn’t sure of the exact portion of the mural that was lost, other than calling it a “significant portion” of her work.
“I was so impressed with how the community came together to put this together,” Kopp said. “They were coming together to boost the memory of their heritage, and I was really sad to see it come down so soon.”
Coming back into view
According to Stipe, most of the murals have spent 16 years or more in various barns around Sequim.
The Olympic View Community Foundation, formerly known as Sequim 2000, managed the murals and for years sought a place for them to go since they were taken down.
“They came to us a couple of years ago saying they couldn’t keep them in the barns anymore,” Stipe said. “So we got to work.”
Several of the murals are already back up around town, including at Over The Fence, the old town hall building on West Bell St., and on the side of the A1 Auto store.
According to Stipe, plans are in place to put up six more murals around town, including another at Over The Fence to join two already there, while the remaining four will go on display at the museum.
One mural, according to Stipe, was destroyed when the cement slab backing it failed and crumbled.
More work to do
Sequim Museum & Arts has had to take full control of the project after issues with the other non-profit organization forced them to pull out, putting the financial onus of gathering, caring for and distributing the murals on the museum.
“There’s a lot more to the process of moving and maintaining these murals than most people would think,” Stipe said.
“Most of them have several inches of cement backing them, and some of them weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds because of it. That’s created logistical challenges.”
Stipe said that volunteers — John Dickinson and the late Louis Rychlik — were generous with helping the museum with the murals, donating their time and heavy lifting equipment to the project several times. Members of the Sequim football team also helped move two murals after a recent practice.
“We’re all part of a community where we share with each other and make sure the right thing is being done,” Stipe said of the community efforts to get the murals back in town.
Stipe added that she’s expecting it to take about two years to get the rest of the murals up, but once that process is complete she wants to start leading the creation of new murals depicting more of the town’s history and heritage.
When asked, Kopp said that no one had contacted her about putting the murals back up or potentially creating new ones.
“There’s no real reason to (talk to me about it),” she said. “I’m just glad to see that history again.”
Said Stipe, “It’s important that we share just who we are and where we came from. And it helps in other ways, too. Several business owners have told me that the murals that are already up have helped with tourism.”
Stipe declined to specify what kind of help that entailed, but she did say that she’s working with the city art commission on the mural project to allow for more tourism-related resources to be involved.
Nothing official is in place yet, but she said she’s meeting with city officials soon to start making sure what, if any, permitting will be required for further work and to sound out what kind of involvement the city might be able to have with the project.
Even if the city doesn’t get involved, Stipe says, the museum will find a way to complete their project.
“I’m determined to finish this,” she said. “We’re already planning more fundraising for the murals and working on finding more help. We’re going to get this done.”