The Apostrophe Blog
In July 2021, during the ongoing days of the COVID nightmare, a group of us under the direction of artist extraordinaire Jenny Joyce painted a mural on the side of our garage that faces the alley. I had seen and admired one a few blocks away in the alley that leads to the chickens all of us were so happy to feed during the early days of the pandemic. Jenny had worked on many murals in the past around Portland for the McMenamins empire as well as out in Estacada where she used to live. She was happy to come up with a design—native flora and fauna—and then to instruct her amateur crew how to transfer her fabulous drawing to the shingled surface of the garage. We decided the base coat of paint would be the same deep Black Forest Green that we had used as trim on the house and the garage when it was re-painted ten or so years back. And then we went from there.
We would set up a table with paints and brushes and water in the alley. Then Jenny would take us through the steps of chalking the design on the shingles, drafting the images from her drawing, and then slowly painting them out. Ellen, John, Karen, and I were the creative assistants. We had a blast; many folks who live on either side of the alley came out to see what all the fuss was about. We cast about for a title for the mural and finally I came up with one: Sentinels.
Sentinels is a nod to the concept of sentinel species. Per Wikipedia, these are “organisms, often animals, [and sometimes plants] used to detect risks to humans by providing advance warning of a danger.[…] Some animals can act as sentinels because they may be more susceptible or have greater exposure to a particular hazard than humans in the same environment.” The classic example is the notion of the canary in the coal mine detecting deadly poisonous gases. And in this era of climate change and endangered species, this title seemed to fit.
I love that there is now this mural in an alley, a surprise waiting for people who just happen to walk by and discover. Yesterday, I was back there pruning the volunteer iris patch I have along our fence. A young family came along and stopped to have a look. “Great mural,” the father called out to me as they made their way down the rest of the alley. And so the word of its existence will continue to spread…