By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Have you ever wondered what “The Simpsons” and renowned counterculture author Ken Kesey have in common?
You’ll find both in downtown Springfield. However, while an unofficial “Moe's Tavern” is nearby, only Ken Kesey has a direct connection to local beer.
Old City Artists, with offices in both Studio City, Calif. and Portland, painted a 15-foot-by-30-foot mural of the long-running animated TV show in 2014. Old City has also worked with Nike, Disney and Madison Square Garden. Then, during four days in August 2015, Old City Artists returned to Springfield to paint a new mural — photorealistic and two stories tall — of Ken Kesey, the Merry Prankster of the 1960s, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion,” and graduate of Springfield High School (where he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”). Kesey originally moved to Springfield in 1946 and lived much of his life just south of town in the rural community of Pleasant Hill. He died in 2001. The Kesey mural is on the wall of the Odd Fellows Building at 346 Main St., better known as Plank Town Brewing Company.
“The City of Springfield approached Plank Town with their idea to honor Ken Kesey,” says Bart Caridio, owner of Plank Town and Eugene-based Sam Bond’s Brewing, as well as the pubs Sam Bond’s Garage (Eugene) and the Axe & Fiddle (Cottage Grove). “The Odd Fellows were instrumental in agreeing to this idea, agreeing to have the mural on their building, and Plank Town just had to agree to have in on their business. It was a big fat ‘YES’ from both parties."
A panel of Springfield civic and business representatives, including Caridio and Kesey family members, put out a call for designs. The panel reviewed and selected the final design from eight submissions. Caridio recalls the design’s innovative incorporation of the wall’s windows and building elements as being key in the panel’s decision. The winning design was by Craig Ferroggiaro of Portland-based Willamette Valley Color, who has also created images for Swiss Army, Toyota and Apple. The $28,000 project cost was funded by Springfield hotel taxes.
Once selected, Old City Artists collaborated closely with the Kesey family to include memorabilia in the bookcase that is the primary part of the mural, such as the tie-dyed FURTHUR bus that Kesey and his fellow Merry Pranksters drove around the U.S. during the counterculture movement of the 1960s. In a video about the mural, Old City Artists described its “impossible idea” to tell Kesey’s story as a “father, farmer, magician, writer, athlete and counterculture icon,” focusing on imagery such as the bookshelf, a family photo and a concert ticket. “The mural is at once simple and complicated — just like Ken,” concludes Old City Artists. In addition to owner Erik Nicolaisen, Old City Artists members Christopher Slaymaker, Eduardo Garcia, and Patrick McGregor worked on the mural. The finished piece was unveiled and dedicated at a public celebration, also attended by Rep. Peter DeFazio, on Aug. 28, 2015.
Since its opening in 2013, Plank Town has become a cornerstone of downtown renewal in Springfield, once known more for strip joints and dive bars, and now increasingly known for craft beer, the performing arts and small businesses. Along with Hop Valley Brewing Co., Plank Town serves as a Springfield destination — particularly for folks working their way along the Eugene Ale Trail of breweries. The mural, Plank Town is finding, also gives people another reason to visit downtown Springfield and stop in for a pint.
“We all have noticed that there has been a pickup of tourism to check out the mural,” says Michelle Long of Plank Town. “It's pretty common now to look out the side window of the restaurant and see someone across the street taking pictures and staring at the building for quite a while to read and discover every part of the memorabilia in the bookcase. It's not uncommon to see people quite taken and going through a range of emotions while looking at the mural.”
Long sees the mural as enriching the Springfield art scene and enhancing the city’s growing reputation and new identity as a destination for art, culture, food, craft beverages and the outdoors. “Springfield has Second Friday Art Walks,” explains Long. “Adding another mural in the downtown area of this caliber is wonderful for getting people to notice what lovely things we have going on out here.”
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Every day we hear customers say, ‘I never noticed this place was here,’” described Laina Amerson of the Alberta Street Pub in Northeast Portland. She and her partner Robert Bouchard decided to brighten up the exterior of their nondescript rectangular building with a light, cheerful mural.
Amerson’s brother purchased the pub in 2012, which used to be a well-known dive bar. He closed it and totally renovated the interior and outside seating space before reopening in 2013. “Still,” said Bouchard, “it was an unfinished work. We wanted to do some facade improvements to attract attention. We also wanted to create a mural to contribute to our neighborhood community, the Alberta Arts District.”
They enlisted help from Bouchard’s brother, Jon Olsen, a street artist from Miami. After considering several different sketches, they decided on a dandelion gone to seed. “First he painted the blue sky gradient over the dull gray parapet. Immediately it changed the feeling to one of blue skies are here again,” said Robert. “We wanted to set an expectation that this was a happy place to get away from the daily stress of life.”
The mural wraps around three sides of the building. On the corner side, the large dandelion, just past its bloom, is just starting to go to seed. Across the front of the building, the wispy seeds float by. And wrapping around the side of the structure are sprouting dandelions.
“We liked the concept,” said Amerson. “Kids blow on a dandelion and make a wish, hoping all your wishes come true. And dandelions are hardy plants that grow everywhere. Personally, the painting is a tribute to a deceased family friend. And, last but not least, dandelions are liver cleansers.”
Furthering the pub’s commitment to the arts, Amerson enlisted the help of her brother, a musician, to help redesign the building while making sure to include performance space with the help of other local musicians.
“He always wanted a music venue. That was a big deal to him,” said Amerson. The inviting pub has three different areas: the front bar section with tables and booths that seat around 35, the back room or live room for music and other events and a large outside space that can seat up to 100.
“This place is totally different,” said Amerson. “The outside area used to be a garbage pit.”
Amerson took over as general manager in 2013. Not long after that she met Bouchard, who had moved to Portland from Port Townsend, Wash. where he was a wooden boat builder. Amerson’s family is also from Port Townsend. “I heard that this place was a Port Townsend hangout, so I started coming,” he said.
Bouchard has a background in construction and project management and was in the restaurant industry, both managing and bartending for 15 years. He stepped right into the same role at the pub.
When Amerson and Bouchard became parents to a baby boy, now a little more than a year old, Amerson stayed home with the baby while Bouchard took over at the pub. Now, they’re switching roles again and Amerson is coming back to the pub as manager. Bouchard is taking over child care and handling the business side of the pub, including marketing, operating systems, inventory and finances.
The bar has a full selection of craft beers with 21 rotating taps. “We focus on local products — local farms for the food, local distillers and local breweries,” said Amerson. “With the craft taps, we have two on nitro, two IPAs and two ciders. We always have a fizzy wine; right now it’s a citrus wine from Hi-Wheel. We often have a mead. The one now is from Nectar Creek out of Corvallis. We try to balance styles and adjust for seasonals.” Of course, they also have Dandy Porter on tap from Agrarian Ales, which is made with dandelion roots.
In another nod to the Alberta Arts District, Bouchard recently put up a display of mid-century era photographs. The photos are from a collection of slides Robert discovered that his deceased stepfather had saved in a cigar box. The photographer is unknown, but the prints are high-quality and wouldn’t be out of place in a publication like LIFE magazine.
“The idea behind the display is to engage the viewer in the mystery of it. The thread is the idea of the American Dream. This was an era of great growth and optimism in the United States. And these photos reflect that,” he said.
Alberta Street Pub
[a] 1036 NE Alberta St., Portland
[h] 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.(ish) daily
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