LUMMI RESERVATION - Isha Jules, a 37-year-old Native American artist, says he sees "canvases everywhere."
Having long observed a graffiti problem on three pole buildings near the ferry dock at Gooseberry Point, he saw artistic potential. The result is three large, colorful murals created by a team of artists under his guidance.
Jules' résumé includes nine years of service in the U.S. Army, including working on base security in Saudi Arabia. A graduate of Northwest Indian College, he lists his heritage part German and Swedish descent, and half-Shuswap, a First Nations tribe in Canada.
Question: Isha, how did this opportunity develop?
Answer: In August, Gordon Adams hired me as one of the four subcontractors in the Community Improvement Project, also known as the Work Force Re-entry Project. Gordon is the project manager.
My job is to teach adults art, airbrush techniques and mural painting, with the goal of helping them learn confidence and skills they can use in work, such as commercial sign painting. I also felt this was an opportunity for me to grow by learning to articulate myself in a positive way.
Q: What made you decide to turn those pole buildings into examples of gorgeous nature art?
A: I've had my eye on these buildings for a long time. This project was perfect. Lummi officials gave us permission to paint the buildings. They are murals involving the Coast Salish, salmon, eagles and fishers.
Q: How many artists participated?
A: We have eight adult participants: Elsie Wolfblack, Tom Solomon, Phillip Solomon, Mitch Solomon, Gary Julius, Colby Schnackenberg, Vincent Feliciano and a guy who goes by the name Bug.
One of my major goals was to help them work cooperatively instead of competing. We designed the murals as a group. They were created with a combination of airbrush, spray cans and paint brushes.
Q: What has been the response?
A: The community loves the murals! People can see them from the ferry dock. I'm really proud of what our artists have accomplished.
Q: What's your art background?
A: My youth was not easy for me, but it was full of challenging experiences that shaped who I am. I was a wrestler in high school in Portland, but I also began to love art when I was about 16. I began to work in pencils and pastels. I was the kid in the back of the room who the teachers would let draw.
I learned airbrushing from Ron Miles, who was a wonderful mentor in Portland. Ron Strockman from Blaine taught me how to airbrush on metal.
Q: Other than murals, what's your favorite type of art?
A: Portraits are my favorite art. I also like to study light and how it affects objects. My philosophy is that I was not born with kneepads, so I won't go into a gallery and beg to be on the walls. I believe I see canvases everywhere.
Q: How long will your project last?
A: I'm hoping it will be renewed in December. Gordon Adams has done a great job with it. I owe a lot to Gordon, and to the Lummi leadership and council.
Q: What's next for you and your mural students?
A: I would love to see us paint a five-story building. I also have my eye on some buildings in Bellingham. Like I said, I see canvases everywhere!
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.