Forest Grove fire chief's persistence and passion spark local artists to jump at his mural idea

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - While Emily Lux and Nate Marcel hurry to finish the mural before Saturdays deadline, they remain committed to the highest quality. Marcel likes that the mural highlights public services. Its such an important job, he said.Emily Lux was focusing intently on the mural she is painting for the Forest Grove Fire Department when her one-year-old suddenly appeared holding garden shears.

That same afternoon, she found a dirty old pistachio shell in his mouth.

Parenting and painting can be tough to balance, but that’s just one of the complications Lux and her husband have faced since agreeing to help bring Fire Chief Michael Kinkade’s dream to life.

Along with curious little boys wandering through their project area, they’ve also got a leaking water heater, a roof that’s still flaking from a recent repair, volunteer duties to attend to and class curriculums they’re preparing for the school year.

But they’re rushing to finish the mural by Saturday, Sept. 19, when it’s scheduled to be unveiled at 2 p.m. on the south side of the fire station on the corner of 19th Avenue and Ash Street. The unveiling will be part of other festivities this weekend, including the Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival, the Corn Roast and the Lions Club fundraising run.

The mural will be a big plus for the community, Kinkade said. “It’s part artistic, part honoring the fire service and part improving the appearance of the downtown corridor.”

He had a dream

Driving through St. Paul four years ago, Kinkade saw farming murals that inspired him to seek out an artist who could bring something similar to life at his own fire station.

“I thought it would be cool with a firefighter motif,” Kinkade said. “And the south side of the station is ugly.”

After many dead ends, he finally connected with Forest Grove resident Emily Lux at a Public Arts Commission (PAC) meeting in December 2014.

It was Lux’s first meeting as a PAC commissioner and she was immediately enticed by Kinkade’s idea, as well as dismayed that no artist had stepped forward up to that point. “It gives artists a bad name,” said Lux, who jumped at the opportunity.

This will be her third Forest Grove mural.

A little more than a year ago, Lux and her husband, Nate Marcel, painted the mural on the back wall of the Valley Art Association gallery. Roughly six years before that, Lux helped design and paint the current Theatre in the Grove façade.

“I knew it could be done,” Kinkade said. “It just took finding the right person.”

Lux, Marcel and Kinkade tossed around several different designs before choosing a somewhat unusual one. For one thing, the 300 square foot mural will not be painted directly onto the brick, but will be made of six 5- by 10-foot aluminum panels that will be mounted to the wall. For another, the art looks like something out of a graphic novel.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Because they only have room to work on one panel at a time, the finished ones are taken outside where neighbors and passersby can track the murals progress.

Lux copied images from old fire department photos that Kinkade provided, including one of civilians riding on a fire engine during an event in the 1950s. At Kinkade’s request, she personalized the image by adding the real faces of a few former fire chiefs and firefighters to the crowd.

On a panel depicting a firefighter talking to a group of children, she added the likenesses of Anna Dieter-Eckerdt and Abigail Robinson, two Forest Grove sisters whose October 2013 deaths shook the whole community — particularly the public safety employees involved — but also brought everyone together in a positive way.

“I think what she’s done is beautiful,” Kinkade said. “I love it.”

“There are people we don’t want to be forgotten,” Lux said.

In July, Kinkade managed to secure a $2,061 Community Enhancement Program (CEP) grant to help fund the project.

The Western Washington County Firefighter’s Association will cover the remaining costs, with Lux and Marcel getting $3,750.

“Then I’ll get a new water heater,” Lux said excitedly.

Marcel said at the end

A home brimming with art is what you’d expect from a pair of artists.

From the myriad paintings and materials that pack their garage to the homemade toys their children play with, art is everywhere on the Lux-Marcel property.

This most recent project has poured beyond the walls of their Forest Grove residence and into their 16th Avenue yard.

That’s because each panel is so large, they only have room to work on one at a time in the garage. The others must sit out in the yard, where the paint dries as Lux and Marcel immediately start on another panel inside.

“It’s a lot of work,” Marcel said. “It’s definitely a more-than-one-person job.”

But the fact there are two artists doesn’t make the job any less challenging. Along with the mural project, Lux and Marcel both have full-time jobs and parental responsibilities for sons Orson, 6, and Arliss, 1, who do their best to uncover hazardous objects and otherwise distract their parents. Sometimes Marcel straps Arliss into a baby backpack while he works.

On top of that, both Lux and Marcel are teachers — Marcel as an adjunct art instructor at Portland Community College and Lux as a digital photography teacher at Beaverton High School. Lux also has duties on the arts commission and as vice president of Valley Art.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - With work hours taking them late into the night, only to turn around and start up again early in the morning, coffee helps fuel Lux and Marcels efforts to complete the mural for the Forest Grove Fire Department.

But the pair is refreshingly positive about their heavy workload.

“I live for this stuff,” Lux said.

Besides, while their other commitments pull them apart, the mural gives them a chance to be near each other.

“We get to have really awesome experiences together,” Marcel said, although challenges to artistic expression occasionally do arise.

“Pride is hard to swallow sometimes,” Lux said, “but over-the-top honesty eliminates mistakes.”

In one instance, Marcel looked at the children she’d painted on one of the panels and told her one of the faces looked like a Muppet.

“He pointed at it and said, ‘Muppet, Muppet, Muppet.’ It was like 9 p.m., so I was grumbly, but he was right and I’m changing it.

“I mean, what’s worse: Being polite and having something look wrong, or being brutally honest and having it look right?”

As of Sunday, Sept. 13, the mural was more than halfway complete. But with only five days left, the pressure was on.

“I get really freaked out,” Lux said about the deadline.

Some days, they’ll work in 10- or 12-hour shifts. One will paint during the day while the other takes over in the evening and paints most the night.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Painting and parenting must be handled in shifts. When Lux puts work into a mural, Marcel takes over kid duty and keeps one-year-old Arliss out of harms (and artists) way.

“I didn’t even change my clothes last weekend,” Lux said. “But we got so much done.”

Join Lux, Marcel, Forest Grove firefighters and city officials for the mural’s unveiling at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, at the south wall of the fire station on the corner of 19th Avenue and Ash Street.

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