In late August, while out exploring places along the Columbia River, we stumbled upon the Northwest Mural Fest in The Dalles, Oregon. Painters from all over the country met in The Dalles to create 15 murals in three days. Yes, it was a huge undertaking, literally and figuratively.
The 200+ sign painters and mural artists who took part in the event belong to a group called The Walldogs. Imagine a “pack” of artists gathering in a town for a few days to create unforgettable works of art. The murals depict places, people, and products that have local significance. The murals attract tourists and give residents a sense of hometown pride.
Honoring the History
The artists working on this mural, by Anat Ronen, must not have a fear of heights. This mural portrays photographer Benjamin Gifford. He moved from the Midwest to Portland in 1888, and to The Dalles in 1896. His work highlights scenic views of the Columbia River and the scenic highway running beside it. Gifford also featured portraits of local Native Americans.
The Benjamin Gifford mural is being painted on the back of the Clock Tower. This photo shows the building, built in 1883, from the front.
This mural by Brad Johnson, completed in 2021, features Blanche McGaughey, a woman bronc rider and bulldogger. She was a pioneer in a field dominated by men in the 1910s. McCaughey had a job with the 101 Wild West Show and impressed the audience with her skills in roping, riding, and wrestling steers.
This mural, by Sonny Franks, Eric Skinner, and Russell Kelly, shows rancher Ben Snipes. It’s on the same building as the McGaughey painting. At one time, Snipes owned a herd of 125,000 cattle. His big claim to fame was moving 500 cattle 208 miles into Canada after riding 62 hours on a single horse.
This mural, by Jasper Andries, shows a portrait of Chief Tommy Thompson (Celilo Wyam). He tried to stop construction of The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River. It would destroy Celilo Falls, a prime fishing site. Though unsuccessful in his quest, people remember him as being an advocate for the fishing rights of Native peoples.
Northwest Mural Fest in The Dalles
Here’s a map showing the locations of the murals being painted during the Northwest Mural Fest by the Walldogs.
There were signs supporting the Walldogs throughout town. I liked this one in particular. Must be because it has a dog on it. 😀
Here’s a photo of the historic downtown area.
Brief History of The Dalles
You may not have ever heard of The Dalles, but it is an important town historically. The Oregon Encyclopedia notes, “The Dalles is one of the oldest permanently occupied places in Oregon, significant to Native people for over ten millennia and to Euro-American settlers since the 1830s.”
Native peoples often met here in large gatherings to trade and visit, especially during the fall and summer fishing seasons. Wasq’ó-pam people (Wascoes), the resident tribe known as the People of the Horn-Bowl, were primarily fishers.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark noted the dangerous waters rushing through a long, narrow channel at this location in their journals. French Canadian fur traders gave the town its name, The Dalles, in recognition of this natural feature.
Fur traders and pioneers settled in and around The Dalles, beginning in the early 1800s. When emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail reached The Dalles, they either traveled by raft or boat westward along the Columbia or took the overland route over Barlow Pass. The Dalles was designated as the end of the Oregon Trail in 1906 by Ezra Meeker.
This mural, by Robert Thomas and Debbi Lunz, was painted in 1997. It portrays the Umatilla House, once considered the finest hotel west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. It was open from 1857 to 1930 and reconstructed twice after fires. Visitors included Humorist Mark Twain, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Edison, England’s Lord Litchfield, and Author Rudyard Kipling.
When gold was discovered in the vicinity in the 1850s, the population increased significantly, as did the conflicts. Read more about the town’s colorful history here.
Other murals in The Dalles
The Dalles already had 12 murals in various parts of the downtown area. They created two more in the last couple of years. As of August 28, 2022, when Mural Fest ended, the town now has 29 murals.
Here’s a look at a mural created through Travel Oregon. They feature The Dalles in their Oregon Mural Trail project. The Valley Gorge Hub mural, by Blaine Fontana, was painted in 2018. I think it’s my favorite of the murals I’ve seen so far, but I’ll have to make another trip to find them all.
Additional People to Recognize in The Dalles’ History
This mural, by Joe Diaz and Doug Haffner, shows glimpses of the Chinese Community in The Dalles in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Chinese laundries, restaurants, and stores were an important part of the community. Six hundred Chinese workers helped construct railroad lines in this region. They also worked the gold mines in eastern Oregon.
During the Northwest Mural Fest, visitors could read informational signs posted near each work in progress.
This alley shows several smaller murals in progress related to Thomas Condon. The murals, by Lili Lennox, will be moved to the library when completed. In the 1860s, he was a well-known frontier preacher of the Congregational Church. Condon began collecting fossils from the Painted Hills area and became an authority on them. Thomas Condon is Oregon’s first official geologist. Stop by the amazing Thomas Condon Paleontology Center if you’re ever out near Mitchell, Oregon.
This mural, by Aaron Taylor, portrays author, H. L. Davis. Davis was a poet and novelist who wrote about the realities of life in the West in the early 1900s. He worked as a cowboy, typesetter, and surveyor. The landscape played a major role in his writings, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for Honey in the Horn (1935), an unflinching portrayal of Oregon homesteaders.
This mural, by Jennifer Thomas, shows dancer Eleanor Todd Moffett Borg. Borg began dancing to overcome polio. She taught dance from the age of 12 and eventually danced as a New York City Rockette. Borg enjoyed showing horses and taught horsemanship to many local children. She also served as an aviation cadet during World War II.
When leaving town, we glimpsed this Sunshine Mill Artisan Plaza and Winery sign. Even the business signs in The Dalles are works of art!
After seeing all these works in progress during the Northwest Mural Fest, I realized I’d have to come back to see the completed work. Maybe then I’ll have time to see the National Neon Sign Museum…