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High-voltage mural gets its groove back

Volunteer art lovers reignite a 1989 work faded by time, weather

'Machinery' is back in motion.

The mural, which covers a wall in the Boise neighborhood, has been fixed up with help from Metro Murals, a nonprofit group that promotes and restores community art.

Leslie Rosenberg, co-chairwoman of Metro Murals, says the mural, one of about 100 in Portland, was 'something we wanted to save. It has a lot of rhythm and energy.'

Students from North Portland's Open Meadow High School and volunteers such as Metro Mural's Mark Meltzer lent their time and hands to the weather-faded mural's restoration. The team, which included the mural's creator, Tom Cramer, completed work May 29.

'It was a real kick in the head to work on this,' coordinator Meltzer says. 'Cramer's colors are so high-voltage. Pure vision.'

The city of Portland redefined its sign code in 1998 to include murals as well as commercial signs. This striking mural, therefore, couldn't be painted under today's more rigid guidelines: At 72 feet by 21 feet, it's too large.

Cramer, a native Oregon artist, also is known for his brightly painted 'art cars' and, more recently, for his painted wood carvings. He has painted two other murals, also on private property. One is in Southeast Portland, and the other is in the Goose Hollow neighborhood downtown.

'Machinery' depicts a noisy, mazelike industrial scene populated by blue-faced humanoids. Look closely and you'll see rip saw, piano keyboard and industrial images that relate, somewhat, to the neighborhood.

The mural, at 4018 N. Williams Ave., is on the south side of a sheet metal manufacturing business in the Scientific Research Building at the corner of Williams and North Shaver Street. Cramer painted it in 1989, at the request of Frances Escola, an admirer of his work. Escola then worked for the building's owner, Ken Beebe.

A high-quality latex paint that is expected to last longer than the original oil-based paint was used for the restoration. This time around, Cramer sees himself as a member of a bigger crew: He did the black line work around the geometric shapes and added new images in a spot where the building had been damaged by a car and painted over in primer gray, while volunteers painted in the remaining colors.

In the end, the wall sucked up nearly 30 gallons of paint, all of which was donated by the Sherwin-Williams Co. Because of the donations, Metro Murals completed the project for an out-of-pocket cost of just $400.

It's been absorbing to retrace the mural, the artist says.

'I was a different person then it was 14 years ago but I still like it,' Cramer says.

His original vision was to make something bold and colorful that could stand up to the neighborhood, he says. In the 1980s the area was harder-edged, and there was a lot of gang activity.

What Cramer continues to like about the mural today is that it's not trying to sell anything, either commercially or politically. But it still has an 'upbeat edginess.'

'It's improvised. It's like jazz, and it just kind of goes for it,' he says, adding that given its absence of a larger message, the mural probably wouldn't stand a chance of being approved by an officially sanctioned public art committee today.

One of the mural's admirers told Cramer that before the new coats of paint the mural 'was acoustic. Now it's electric.'

Metro Murals' next project is the completion of a mural on the side of a building on Southeast Foster Road. It's expected to be done by the end of August.

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