Arts and Entertainment

Gorst and The Big Picture | A mural appears amidst decay

James Mayo, above, recently completed a mural at Packrat
James Mayo, above, recently completed a mural at Packrat's Toybox in Gorst.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

According to muralist James Mayo, business owners in a down economy could take a cue from Alice Cooper. Or Lady Gaga.

“It’s important for a business to be recognized,” Mayo said. “It’s just like rock stars. They dress and act the way they do because they want to be noticed.”

Mayo, a painter, is putting the finishing touches on a new mural in Kitsap. It depicts an elk, eagles, and a grand mountain range against blue skies. It sits on one side of Packrat’s Toybox, an antique shop in one of the county’s least beautified areas, Gorst.

The 15- by 40-foot painting was commissioned, as many of Mayo’s murals are, by the shop’s owner, who wanted to spruce up the place, which is visible from Highway 3 on Belfair Valley Road. When Mayo arrived, it was a whitewashed fixer-upper that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in two decades, Mayo said. The paint was chipped, and mold had grown in places.

“I took this job because it was such a challenge. It was probably one of the last things you would choose to work on because of the disrepair of the surface,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I can make this look nice, I can make anything look nice.’

“This one here, I gotta say, has become a labor of love.”

What once was a pale, dingy storefront is now hued in a warm brown. Along one full side of the building stretches the nature scene; a mountain stream flows into an azure lake, and as they span from the forefront to the background, the craggy peaks change from snow-lined earth to a hazy, distant purple. A ladder leans against a section where Mayo is painting a rocky waterfall, a final element for a three-month project.

Mayo’s original charge was to repaint the building, and add an elk on its northeast side and an eagle on its front.

“What I’ve ended up doing is taking it way beyond what was expected,” Mayo said. “And until I sign my name on it, it’s not a done painting.”

A Minnesota native, Mayo, 50, painted his first mural on the side of a hardware mercantile. It was a maritime scene, and the job paid $650. In the 17 years since, he’s lost count of the murals he’s done, first in the Midwest, then Kitsap. Last spring he revamped Poulsbo’s famous downtown Velkommen at Front Street and Jensen Way. Mayo painted the desert landscape at Bremerton’s Fifth and Warren intersection, and the Noah’s Ark in midtown. He created a “Thank you Troops” mural on a barn roof in Tahuya, each letter measuring 26 feet tall.

He’s painted for many shops along the Oregon coastline, done the interiors of local restaurants and takes credit for outdoor works in Port Townsend and Port Angeles, including the eye-catching roadside Blue Flame BBQ.

A mural goes a long way toward recognition and increased foot traffic for a business, he contends.

Packrat’s being an antique shop, Mayo imagined giving it an “old world cigar box” look.

“I wanted to make it antique-looking,” he said. “Each building has its own character so I try to design the mural to match the building.”

Unlike his usual murals, for which he gets paid, Mayo did this one in exchange for a rare 1940’s telephone booth with a working phone, which he’ll put in his home studio.

He doesn’t do holidays or windows, he makes a point to clarify.

Next he’ll do a mural for Bremerton’s Pied Piper, as well as a car dealership in Gorst.

“I begin by looking at the wall. It’s the old thing of just staring at your canvas and something comes to you,” he said. Once he and his client have agreed on a design idea, “I just start painting.”

Mayo rarely grids or sketches a mural; instead, he free-hands them, he said. For outdoor murals like the one in Gorst, he uses typical house paint.

He’s never had trouble with graffiti artists defacing his work. In fact, kids often sit and watch him paint, and many times he’s been thanked on the street for adding beauty to a neighborhood.

“I realized a long time ago the impact a mural has on a community. Thousands of people see it every day. That has such an impact,” he said. “That’s why I got into it, because everyone wins. There’s no downside to painting a mural.” WU

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