New west Salem mural celebrates neighbors

When artists Kristin Kuhns and Stephanie Juanillo think of their newly installed mural in west Salem, they remember children running around and across it, and a football being tossed over its 36-foot diameter.

“All of these things, I think, just made the experience a lot more richer,” Juanillo said.

The community interaction with their art during June 2 neighborhood celebration brought validity and a lovely conclusion to an intense weekend of painting, Kuhns added, talking to Salem Reporter in a joint interview.

The installation came after months of work from the West Salem Neighborhood Association, who brought neighbors together, collected donations and navigated city permits, said Irma Coleman, the city’s neighborhood program coordinator. The Salem Leadership Foundation’s Edgewater Partnership also had a significant role in coordinating the effort, she said.

It culminated in a weekend of painting where dozens of neighbors picked up brushes to help the artists work. 

The pair of artists had never met before being tasked with designing and installing the mural which now brightens the asphalt on the intersection of  Northwest 2nd Street and Northwest Kingwood Avenue. The work brought two artists of different generations, styles and identities together to create something that would represent the neighborhood and greater west Salem.

It’s the latest installation in a series of seven murals planned for Salem, each given a $1,000 grant from Travel Salem. It’s the fourth mural installed by neighborhoods in the past year.

The west Salem mural, designed by the artists and painted with the help of the community, features a celebration of local flora and fauna atop vibrant layers of yellow, blue and green.

The rounded mural stretches across the intersection, and depicts river water surrounding land. Salmon swim around it, native Nootka roses bloom and an osprey sits in a tree.

Swallowtail butterflies are also painted there, and their real-life counterparts fluttered around the artists as they worked.

“When I look at the mural I really see it as a reflection of the community, and just how welcoming everyone was,” said Juanillo, who lives in Dallas. “Although it was a really challenging project because of the scale, I experienced so much joy and so I really, really wanted to sort of have all of the swirls and paint brushstrokes reflect that as well.”

The artists were tasked with designing the mural, which took sending ideas back and forth and many hours on photoshop. The pair installed it over the weekend with three days of painting.

Artists Stephanie Juanillo, left, and Kristin Kuhns discuss the mural on site in west Salem (Linda Bierly)

Both artists are used to working solo, and the project tested their ability to work as a team.

Kuhns, whose home is “a strong frisbee toss” away from the mural, has worked as an artist for over 50 years. Her work focuses on the environment and climate of Northwest Oregon, mainly wall pieces on textile and wood.

Juanillo is a recent graduate of Linfield University, whose mixed-media work explores her identity as a first generation immigrant, drawing inspiration from vibrant Mexican colors, music and her family history.

Kuhns said the younger artist brought vision, hope and vigor to the project.

“I’m totally inspired by Stephanie’s relationship to her time and the project,” Kuhns said. They weren’t identical people or artists, which enriched the project, she said. 

“I learned so much,” Juanillo added. “I think we have very different ways of working and our process is a little different.”

Juanillo works in an organic way with minimal measuring, she said, while Kuhns measures everything. She said the older artist helped things stay organized during a massive undertaking, and she’ll take that knowledge on to future projects.

“We got there, and my first thing is, like, I’m getting out a tape measure and Stephanie’s just, like, going for it,” Kuhns said, and laughed. “It was beautiful.”

As they painted, Juanillo said her favorite part was interacting with people who she otherwise wouldn’t have met since she lives in Dallas. She said she’s grateful to everyone who stopped by to help paint, and the neighborhood association’s work.

“Stephanie now is a part of our community for sure,” Kuhns said. “She’s part of the neighborhood. She’s welcome anytime.”

Neighbors help paint a new west Salem street mural (Linda Bierly)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.