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Perhaps Safeway can find a way to bring the mural back


I was astounded and pleased to see the citizen’s view by Evie Proctor with photo by Sarah DeMerritt regarding the missing mosaic tile and rock mural that lurks behind sheetrock in the Safeway store on A Avenue, Lake Oswego. This work was created by my husband, Arvid Orbeck. It disappeared from view in 2003.

When Safeway stores initially came to Lake Oswego in 1964, there was a great flap from the artistic community about the building’s architectural impact on A Avenue and Safeway responded positively with architectural upgrades and the commission of a decorative piece of artwork that would celebrate the area.

The mural was done as an integral part of the building’s exterior bearing wall, not as an added decorative piece. A form was made flat on the ground with a bed of leveled sand. The rocks you see on Safeway’s walls were set individually by expert stoneworkers, then slurry and concrete poured, and, when all was cured, the wall was raised into vertical position revealing the rock. Arvid and I created the swirling rock pattern surrounding the mural’s tiled area on our hands and knees, pushing river rocks into the sand. The point of this story is that the mural could not be removed and repositioned easily — it was part of the wall. However, I always felt that the architects of the store’s 2003 remodel might have dealt with the problem differently, allowing all of us to enjoy our cup of Starbucks next to the artwork. 

The Safeway mural was the precursor of major wall sculptures Arvid created for The Dalles and John Day dams on the Columbia; the sculptural concrete walls of Chemeketa Community College in Salem; wood sculpture walls for International Paper in Gardiner, Ore.; and the U.S. National Bank building in Portland. His graphic and sculptural work is included in collections both private and public.

Arvid Orbeck came to this country from Oslo, Norway, with a Fulbright Scholarship grant to attend Parsons School of Design in New York. Through personal ties forged there he chose to settle in the Portland area, where he eventually became a leading force in the Northwest’s graphic design community. He was lecturer in art at Portland State for 12 years. He served on advisory committees for the Oregon Arts Commission, the Portland Art Museum, city of Lake Oswego, the state of Oregon and many of Oregon’s major architectural firms. We resided in Lake Oswego for some years, then in Dunthorpe. Arvid died in 1988. A website is currently being constructed about the design history and influence of our firm, Orbeck Design.

Perhaps others involved with the arts will express themselves on this subject and its many ramifications for all artists’ work. Thankfully, Lake Oswego’s business and arts community continues to provide public spaces and money for civic art projects. Safeway first created one, then quietly encased and erased it. Perhaps they can find a way to bring it back again.

Shirley Graves Orbeck, Dunthorpe, is a former Lake Oswego resident. She assisted her late husband, Arvid Orbeck, in creating the decorative mural on the downtown Lake Oswego Safeway store that was covered up in a remodel in 2003.