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Northwest Portland artist painting mural to beautify neighborhood

Saturday 4 June 2011

From US newspaper The Oregonian:


Tara Stansberry and mural
Tara Stansberry, of Northwest Portland, paints a mural
on the plywood wall between two houses on Northwest
Flanders Street. The owner of one of the houses
commissioned Stansberry to paint the mural on the wall.
Photo: Molly Hottle/The Oregonian

Northwest Portland artist painting mural to beautify neighborhood

By Molly Hottle, The Oregonian

Near the corner of Northwest 21st Avenue and Flanders Street, Tara Stansberry carefully brushes a layer of orange paint on an owl she has depicted on a large piece of plywood. The owl is one of several animals she has created as part of a large mural she is painting on the wood.

"Poor little guy, people think he's finished but he's not even close," said Stansberry, a tall woman with fuchsia-colored hair, as she carefully paints. "By the time he's done, he'll have full detail."

The plywood wall serves as a tall boundary, separating the home of Stansberry's friend Kathy McFerrin from a decrepit house next door. McFerrin saw the wood as an eyesore and commissioned Stansberry to create a mural that would beautify it.

"I had driven by a couple of times and thought, 'Oh that board, I know exactly what I'd do,' " Stansberry said.

Painting and creating art is Stansberry's purpose in life but growing up in places like Utah and Idaho, where art is more traditional, held her back. Then, four years ago, she moved to Portland.

"The moment I had stepped onto Portland ground, I knew it was the place for me," she said.

Ever since, she's been showing and selling her artwork. It wasn't long after she moved to Portland that Stansberry also realized she enjoyed painting animals. Her favorite materials to use in her art are acrylic paints, gel pens and even salt.

"If it's weird and other people use it in a traditional way, I try to switch it up," she said.

To Stansberry, painting is more than just her purpose and passion, it is also a treatment for the fibromyalgia that she suffers from. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain. On the day that Stansberry was painting the owl in the mural, she said the pain was concentrated in the top of her head and one of her big toes.

But she said painting and listening to music help her to focus on something other than the pain.

"I'll sit down and if I can focus on tiny flowers and tiny details, you're taking a part of your pain away," she said. "It's kind of like mind over matter."

In the mural on Northwest 21st Avenue and Flanders, there are many tiny details that Stansberry has added: small flowers, minuscule words, tiny details on the animals. The vibrant colors of the mural contrast with the bleak colors of the house next door.

The issues between McFerrin and the neighboring house began when people who were living there allegedly took stuff from her porch. A short fence was all that separated the two houses, so the owner of the decrepit house put up the tall plywood wall that Stansberry is painting. Boards also cover most of the windows and a chain-link fence has been placed in front to block the entrance.

Aspects of the painting represent the conflict, Stansberry said. In the center of the half-finished mural is the phrase "Respect to all."

"It's kind of a statement of this house and this neighborhood," she said. "We don't want the people who live there to feel attacked, we don't want the owner to feel attacked. That's not the point."

A tall woman, painted on the left-hand side of the mural, represents the community and Portland as a strong woman. The owl, a rabbit and two deer show that "the environment that we live in is beautiful and does deserve to be taken care of," Stansberry said.

"I wanted this to be kind of a love note to Portland," she said of the mural.

In addition, Stansberry said she hopes the mural also deters graffiti and makes art more accessible to people who might not feel welcome at a traditional art gallery.

"We have galleries here but they're far apart," Stansberry said. "I've had homeless people stop by and say, 'This is my art too.' There's not a lot of art that's accessible. That's too bad. . . . I think it would cut down on tagging if there were more opportunities for people to come and make art."

She said she and McFerrin fear people might instead use her mural as a tagging ground, or that the owner of the house next door might decide to take the plywood down, but they're hoping for the best.

"My mom told me a long time ago that once you put something out there, it's not yours anymore," Stansberry said. "Maybe someone will tag, but hopefully if they do that, more people will say, 'What you're doing is unacceptable.'"

But for now, Stansberry will keep painting the mural, which she has been working on for a month. She estimates she has at least 20 more hours of work to do on it, and plans to have it completed by mid-June. And after being recently laid off from a job, she also hopes the mural will bring her more art-related jobs.

Her art is on display at Blue Olive, a Mediterranean restaurant at 500 N.W. 21st Ave. She is featured in an online gallery called, and has a shop on Etsy, an online store for handcrafted items. She can be reached via email

-- Molly Hottle; Twitter: @nwpdxreporter


The above, with more photos, originally appeared here.


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