Art and the Whiteaker neighborhood

Having explored the Whiteaker area of Eugene for about four weeks now, it has become clear that it is a place for art, eccentricity, and personal expression. McKenna, Ryan, Lauren, and I began our Friday afternoon at the Wandering Goat coffee shop. We remembered having seen a large mural painted on an abandoned building close to the area so we began our search. It didn’t take long. On the corner of 4th and Monroe, nestled in the heart of residential Whiteaker, is a striking mural. Completely covering the side of the building, the mural must be at least 20 feet wide and 15 feet high. The images portrayed all seem to have a similar theme – in the foreground, native women are painted naked, immersed in a natural environment. One of the women, laying on her side, is reading tarot cards. Another, who interestingly appears as if she’s had a mastectomy, appears to be working with a ball of yarn, while a native man plays cat’s cradle with a young boy. There is also a circle of women in the center. Some are portrayed as skeletons or spirits, while some are painted vibrantly. One of the individuals resembles Maya Angelou, and the others we were not able to recognize.

A full view of Kari Johnson's mural on the corner of 4th and Monroe, in the Whiteaker neighborhood. Johnson creates a juxtaposition between nature and industry, depicting one in the foreground and the latter fading to the background.

Conveniently, though, a man walks by and McKenna asks him if he can tell us anything about the mural. Lucky for us, Tim Lewis seemed to know a lot! And he even knew the painter, Kari Johnson. Lewis said the painting was made in 1997 or 1998 and has undergone many changes over the years as Johnson has added to and altered her work. The long serpent that frames the whole mural used to be a dragon, said Lewis. The woman holding the tarot cards might be deciding how to deal with modern problems that should no longer be prevalent, like nuclear waste. Lewis also described the mural’s style as “green anarchy,” and that Johnson painted in such a way to depict what might be a primitive future. We hoped to speak to Johnson herself, so Lewis offered to take us to her home. Although she was not home, Lewis was able to point us in the direction of another mural by Johnson in Whiteaker.

Located on 3rd and VanBuren, the second mural we found had similar themes to the first. Its majestic nature scene depicted the Willamette Valley. A dilapidated car is resting under a large oak tree, abandoned and unimportant in this glowing landscape. Interestingly, the mural is painted behind an auto mechanic shop, where stripped Volvo’s and old Mercedes litter the gravel parking lot.

Kari Johnson's mural is slightly blocked but not overshadowed by abandoned vehicles.

Tony Ridde, who works at the auto repair shop, attempted to explained the meaning behind the painting. He pointed out how the glow of a sunset shines on the oak tree, and the valley is aglow despite the passing rainstorms.

A broken down car sits abandoned under and oak tree in Kari Johnson's mural. While she uses neutral tones, the painting still seems to glow, just like a sunset in the Willamette Valley.

We hope to speak with Johnson soon to find out more about her work, and to see what other art she might do in the area. Whiteaker offers plenty when it comes to exploring art in many different forms.

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3 Responses to Art and the Whiteaker neighborhood

  1. Thistle says:

    I am trying to get in touch with Kari Johnson to see if she would like to do a poster for a spring tour of colleges and universities I will be doing with my band. Do you know how to reach her?

  2. mapperbob says:

    Kari’s mural at 4th and Monroe was originally created in the summer of 1991–not ’97 or ’98–as mentioned above. I passed through town that summer to pay Kari a surprise visit and took pictures of her up on the scaffolding sketching the initial outlines of the mural. It has changed greatly over the years and always for the better.

    • Suzi Steffen says:

      Thanks, @mapperbob. Good to know, and I’ll pass that on to the author of the post (who is probably seeing it right now).

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