Ever since Jeanne Strong purchased a home in downtown Langley this past fall, she knew she had to do something with an awkward blank wall on her home’s exterior.
As a new Langley resident, Strong figured she could use the space to offer something to her new neighborhood, something different from what else is in town.
Then it came to her. While Langley is dotted with sculptures and glass art, the city lacked public paintings. Why not design a mural that encapsulates life in the Village by the Sea?
“It felt empty, and something needed to go there,” Strong said. “I just wanted to make a contribution of time and art to the Langley community. I realized that whatever I did would become quite public, as Melsen Alley sees a lot of pedestrian traffic. A mural was perfect.”
Strong, who previously lived on South Whidbey but only recently moved to Third Street in downtown Langley, had a vision of a piece designed to echo the ways people are connected both locally and globally. However, she wanted the piece to also express what it means to her to live in the town, as an homage to Langley.
She then started asking people around town whose talents she should seek out to complete her vision, not a difficult task in a town where you could “throw a rock and hit an artist.” But the most interest came from an unexpected source: her hairstylist and fellow Langley resident, Siobhan Wright. As it turns out, she happened to paint murals in her 20s. Strong casually brought up her vision while getting her haircut in Wright’s salon, which led her to throw her name into the mix.
Strong says she initially thought little of it, until Wright followed up.
“Several weeks later, she called me and asked if I had thought any more about the mural,” Strong said. “’I can’t get it out of my head,’ she said. I asked her to send me a sketch, which she did within a few hours. I was so taken by the sketch, I needed to look no further.”
Wright’s quickly-drawn sketch was littered with symbols of interconnectedness. The picture depicted a tree of life, the connection between heaven and earth, the link between spirit and nature and symbols of inclusion. Signs from the major world religions, as well as iconic symbols of the Pacific Northwest, were also included.
However, with the mural on the side of her house, Strong wanted to add personal flavor with images relevant to her life. Having lived around the world in countries such as China, New Zealand and Uganda, Strong asked Wright to include symbols from those cultures to go along with the mural’s global theme.
It was an easy inclusion for Wright.
“My tendency is to think similarly to her with the themes of inclusiveness with a bit of mysticism,” Wright said. “Most of this is her idea, but I enjoy playing along with her vision since we think alike.”
As Wright has worked on the mural on weekends throughout the summer, passersby continue to make comments on what to include and what symbolizes the area to them. Realizing this could become an interactive project with town residents, Strong and Wright began taking suggestions, before realizing Wright should settle on a vision to move forward. Yet, they liked the interactive aspect.
Wright then came up with an interesting solution.
“We decided to incorporate a mirror at eye level in the trunk of the tree, so everyone, no matter who they are, could see themselves reflected as a part of Langley,” Strong said. “To me, this is a way to create community through art.”
Similar to Strong, Wright sees the mural as her gift to Langley. She says she felt like the city “needed some more color and funkiness,” especially in a part of town where there’s so much foot traffic.
Wright estimates the mural will be completed near the end of the summer.
“It was really important to me that I give a gift to Langley,” Wright said.