Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Inside NAAM

This morning Barbara Thomas took us on a tour of the Northwest African American Museum and let me take some picture to share with the community. Here are some shots in case you have been curious to see what is brewing inside of that old brick Colman building.

At the entrance, outside will be a sculpture/installation garden. A cafe will also open from the inside to the outdoors.

Once you walk in the main door, you will pass a gift shop on the right and a cafe on the left, then an information booth. The first room of the museum will be the Journey room. Barbara described it as a street, long and narrow. As you walk along the Journey room, you will find photographs, artifacts and multimedia that tell the story of the journey of Black Americans to Seattle from other parts of the US. A globe in the museum will also map out people's journeys beyond the American continent to the various places of origin. This will stretch from the past to the modern immigrant journeys.

Then there is the main exhibit room. One exciting work that is already scheduled for display is a mural by Jacob Lawrence, depicting George Washington Bush’s journey by wagon across the continent from Missouri to the Northwest.

There will also be a community workspace to rent for workshops and classes, a multimedia room to conduct research and hold presentations and a large Legacy room (last image) for big lectures and events.

And there will also be affordable apartments on the second floor. They have some of the old brick walls exposed and amazing views of downtown and Mt. Baker.

I have only scratched the surface in this description, but this is just to give you an idea of what is to come. Barbara was very open to sharing the museum progress with the community.

Hearing the plans for the museum and seeing it inside made me really understand what a contribution it will be to this neighborhood. There will be events to attend, projects to work on, art to see and a coffee shop all just a walk away. This will be a true cultural center and our mural seems to fit perfectly with the mission of the museum. The mural project is also a great opportunity to keep building our relationship with NAAM.

Barbara mentioned that there are some volunteer opportunities for folks who would like to get more involved with the museum. NAAM will open in Spring, but the volunteer applications are available online here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Update on our meeting with Barbara Thomas

We met with Barbara Earl Thomas, local artist and curator of NAAM. Eddie Walker presented the community mural concept and the idea of covering the entire wall (much bigger than what Ms. Thomas and I originally discussed). She reacted positively to the proposal and said that the concept was in line with the goals of NAAM and the Urban League. She also liked that the community is being proactive in engaging with the museum and investing in it. We got to hear some exciting plans for the exhibits. It sounds like the museum will be a community oriented, educational and a dynamic place.

Barbara did express concern with the ambition of our scope, given the current budget of $7,200 and time frame (the goal is to have the mural up by mid-January, 2008). She suggested that we do the mural in three parts and focus on one section first. Then we can raise more money and do the other two sections. We were happy that she was open to the whole wall idea concept and agreed that it would be a good strategy to do the mural in parts. Barbara underscored that we would, through her participation, keep the Urban League abreast of all the details and make sure that they are on board with the community's plans for future installments of the mural.

The next steps are to figure out how the mural will be attached to the wall. We need to talk with the architects about this. Also, Mr. Walker will determine the proposed dimensions and scope of content of the first section to be completed. Those specifications will be shared and approved by the Colman Community and the Colman project through Barbara Thomas.

Community Mural Meeting Notes

Mr. Walker presented the mural design for feedback. He talked about the general concept, which has evolved some since the last meeting. The mural imagery will still radiate from the center with a focus on the Colman school and the Colman/Judkins community. The next section will cover the local protests, marches and activism for civil rights. Then the third stage will cover the pioneer history and the daily lives of the people in the area. Across the whole mural, there will be larger portraits of community leaders and in between the spaces, everyday people. The background will be made up of Pacific Northwest foliage. The colors will go from yellow to orange to purple to blue to green radiating from the yellow center. Another layer will be text in various languages and of community narratives mixed into the mural and on the sides.

We had a discussion about who should be depicted on the mural. Over history, the CD has been a multicultural place, but there has been a lot of leadership by the Black community members in the civil rights movement and community organizing. Also for a large period and most recently the area has been predominantly African American. So, we agreed that there should be a predominance of African American imagery to reflect the Black presence in the CD and the mural placement by NAAM. It will also have multicultural imagery to represent the multicultural history of CD and the interconnected experiences of people in the area.
Some folks remembered Mr. Desmoni, for example. He was from Sicily and sold liquor to after-hours clubs. People in the neighborhood bought homemade Sicilian liquor from him. One meeting participant said that she still has his wine barrels in her basement. Several folks remembered the Jewish family that owned a store in the neighborhood and would sell things to neighbors on credit.

Some suggestions were made to look through the Black Heritage Society images (which we have already done once). Mr. Walker plans to search for more images at MOHAI. People talked about the Madrona beach (the only beach where African Americans were allowed to swim at one point). One of the meeting participants, Stephanie, said that there is a photograph of her grandmother in a bathing suit, likely at Madrona beach in the Black Heritage collection. She will try to retrieve it. There was also a discussion about how none of the major grocery stores wanted to open a branch in the neighborhood. There was community organizing, Nina Harding and others fought to get the land abatement and to develop the Promenade into an area with stores. Before that there was nowhere close to do grocery shopping except for the Black Front, which was a small store.

There was also discussion about how much of the unpleasant past to represent in the mural. In our interviews, we found that people tended to tell stories of discrimination (like the one about beach segregation and big stores ignoring the n'hood) as well as positive stories of community pride and collaboration. We debated about the merits of painting a romanticized depiction of the neighborhood vs. a realistic and not always happy one. It seems that a balance of all types of stories should be told, pleasant and some unpleasant.

Eddie’s concept covers the whole wall and we will try to get permission from NAAM to do that. At this point, they have only committed to a contained mural, but Eddie and I are meeting with Barbara Thomas tomorrow and we will try to explain the concept to her and see what the possibilities are.

Other ideas for the mural were to create a children’s coloring book (addition to Chalice's last meeting idea of having an informational brochure) and Reggie pointed out that the mural can become a destination spot where people come from other places to look at it and to learn about the area history.

People, institutions and places that were mentioned
Agnes and Corky Kirshner who raised 11 kids from 1950
Floyd Standifer, the musician
Eddie Rye
Larry Gossett
Aaron Dixon
Black Panthers
The crew who occupied Colman School (Elmer, Amari, etc)
Facts, Medium (Black newspapers)
Our Lady Mt. Virgin
Promenade (the struggle to get land abatement and to gain economic empowerement)
I90 struggle (struggle to keep homes)
Liberty Bank
Black Front (AA grocery store)

Concerns raised
How to represent the abstract concepts in a powerful way?
The mural imagery should "speak" to people, tell complex and diverse stories but at the same time not be too chaotic.
How to visually represent the narratives, such as ones of economic empowerment that people have discussed?
How to express community pride visually?
How to represent the struggles and hardships?
Can it be done in 3 months and with the funding that we have?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cable Cars in the CD

Don't forget about the mural meeting tomorrow at the Douglas-Truth Library at 6pm. Scroll down a few posts for more meeting info.

Thanks Scott for finding this image of the Yesler cable car that ran between Leschi and downtown from 1988 to 1940. Read more about the cable cars here.

Here is the Douglas-Truth Library in 1916, then known as Yesler Branch. The Yesler cable car tracks are right in front of it. Read more about this image here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Colman Girls

This photograph was shared for the mural project by Ms. Ora Adams who has lived in the neighborhood for the past 50 years and whose kids went to Colman school. Ms. Adams said that her now grown children still know all but one of the kids in this image.

Friday, October 12, 2007


2300 E. Yesler Way, 98122

Please join us for an open community discussion about the Mural.

Artist Eddie Walker will present his design for your feedback. Come voice your opinion and be a part of this historic mural.

For more information contact Irina

Upload a flier and pass it on:
Mural Meeting.PDF

Image on the left is by Eddie Walker

Monday, October 8, 2007

Douglas Truth

Our next mural meeting will take place on Oct 16 at 6pm in the Douglas Truth Library.

I found this interesting historical account of the way that the library has changed over the years. It talks about the waves of Jewish, Japanese and African American patronage. You will also find images of Eddie's murals with this story here.

The article brings up an interesting point about integration vs. identity, which seems to be an old debate and something that I have been thinking about with respect to our mural. Several issues are involved:

1. The history of the Colman/Judkins neighborhood is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural history.

2. Since the end of WWII this neighborhood has had a strong African American identity and since the 70s, it has been predominantly African American.

3. The mural will go on the wall in front of the African American museum.

Question: what is the best way to represent the history of the neighborhood and at the same time to respect the African American identity of the museum?

Just thought I'd throw this out for input. You can leave comments at the bottom of this post by clicking on the "comments" link.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Many thanks to all those attending the initial meeting with the artist. Please keep the images and the stories coming. Also, thanks to Irina for helping me to get on line with the blog.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

credit to NIC addition to the list of recommendations/feedback collected at the Oct 2 meeting: somewhere on the wall should be a credit to the Northwest Insurance Council for the Strong Neighborhood Action Program grant. I imagine there might be other credits, including, of course, Eddie Walker and the museum. (-:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

October 2 -- Community Meeting

Colman neighbors met at the Central Area Senior Center on October 2 to discuss the community mural. Artist Eddie Walker presented his ideas for the mural concept.

Community members provided some feedback and other ideas for the mural. For example, some people suggested that the mural should have an educational component, such as an accompanying brochure that will explain the events depicted in the mural. Caroline contributed her skills as an architect and drew the mural wall to scale.

Eddie described the mural concept which involves three thematic layers that will radiate from the center. These themes have emerged from the interviews and archival research:

1) History of the Colman School building

2) Struggles of the Colman/Judkins neighborhood

3) Everyday life of the Central District

The edges of the mural will blend the depictions of local community life with the greater Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

Colman building itself, surrounded by its history (students, principal, school boycott, closure, take-over, etc.), will be the central imagery of the mural.

Beyond the layer of Colman School history, images will radiate outward from the historic building into the second layer, which will depict the struggles of the communities that surround the Colman building. For example, there will be images of Judkins Rejected, the marches and the neighborhood organizing.

The third and the outer layer of imagery will depict everyday life in the community, such as church life, sports, picnics, socializing, families, etc.

In addition to the three layers (History, Struggles and Everyday Life) the mural will have two more elements. One element is a layer of text that is directly taken from the stories that people have contributed to the mural. The other element will be a layer made up of stencils that will be applied by community members once the mural is mounted.

At this point, we need to continue to gather stories from neighbors. A number of people have volunteered to be interviewed and if anyone has a story to contribute or would like to volunteer to do some interviews, please email Irina at

Our next meeting will take place at the Douglas Truth Library on October 16th at 6pm. Please join us to review Eddie's design and to provide further feedback.