Starting in June, concrete bollards in downtown Bellingham began sporting painted caps and white polka dots, like knickknack toadstools.
Bellingham artist Christen Mattix was painting the traffic barriers to – as she put it – “bring a little joy.”
But there was a problem; Mattix never sought permission from the city to paint the bollards. While she was painting her ninth bollard, a police officer told her to stop and, in a friendly way, instructed her to take up the matter with City Hall, Mattix said.
“I should have gone through the permitting process, but didn’t,” she said. “I was pretty impatient.”
On Thursday, Aug. 18, city workers repainted the toadstool bollards their customary gray, but that’s not the end of the story for bollard art downtown.
At NW Handspun Yarns, Heather Seevers has knitted and crocheted two pop-culture characters – a Dalek from the sci-fi TV show “Doctor Who,” and Pikachu from Pokémon – that both fit nicely over bollards outside the shop at 1401 Commercial St.
And at Downtown Bellingham Partnership, there is talk about staging an event next year to bring colorful activities to the sleepy block of Cornwall Avenue between Holly and Magnolia streets, with painted bollards one of the ideas being considered.
We could have an adopt-a-bollard day.
Christen Mattix, Bellingham artist
“Let’s bring some life to that block, give it some personality,” said Alice Clark, the partnership’s executive director.
Clark said she was intrigued by the idea of decorating bollards, not just painting them.
Mattix, chagrined by her experience, likes the idea of people, with proper city approval, adorning bollards with masks, shower caps, costumes, and other temporary decorations.
“We could have an adopt-a-bollard day,” she said. “It could be a lot of fun.”
New idea for Bellingham
A bollard is a short vertical post, often concrete or metal, and often used to direct traffic and separate pedestrians from vehicles.
Bellingham’s bollards date back to efforts in the early 1980s to keep downtown the city’s main retail center, rather than submit weakly to plans for a regional shopping center that, eventually, became reality as Bellis Fair mall. Part of the effort to upgrade downtown was planting street trees, enlarging corners at major intersections, and installing bollards to protect people on the sidewalk from vehicles.
“Very few people in Bellingham had ever heard of bollards,” said Brian Griffin of Bellingham, a retired insurance executive who lobbied for support for downtown in the 1980s. “Paris is full of bollards.”
Anyone who wants to paint them is supposed to present a proposal for review by city staff and by the city Arts Commission, with final OK from the mayor. Issues include using paint that won’t hurt the environment, and making clear who will remove the paint later, rather than burden city crews with the job.
People freaking love him.
Heather Seevers, about her Pikachu bollard cover
“I know that’s a concern for Public Works,” said city planner Shannon Taysi.
Have Pikachu will travel
At NW Handspun Yarns, Seevers hasn’t sought City Hall approval for her knitted bollard characters, and city officials haven’t contacted her. That might be because the covers are readily removable, even when they’re supposed to stay put.
Earlier last week, the Pikachu disappeared after the shop accidentally left it outside after hours. A tree near the shop happens to be a PokeStop for “Pokémon Go” players, so Seevers used social media to spread word about the missing Pikachu.
“I had an army of foot soldiers out looking for him,” she said.
Her Pikachu was later found adorning a bollard by the County Courthouse.
Then, during business hours Wednesday, Aug. 17, a man walked away with the Pikachu. Seevers said an alert barista at The Black Drop Coffee Shop called her after seeing the culprit, so she ran after him. Accompanied by the barista and by someone from Mount Bakery Cafe, Seevers persuaded the man to hand over the Pikachu.
“People were worried,” she said. “People freaking love him.”
Seevers, too, said the idea of decorating bollards in an organized way holds promise for downtown.
“It’s a totally Bellingham thing,” she said, “in a ridiculous and artistic way.”
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291