Photographing Public Art,  Street art,  Travel galleries,  Washington State

Gallery: the Anacortes Murals Project

Anacortes struck me as an easy-going and slightly quirky small city. It’s the sort of laid-back place where a brief stop can easily turn into a couple of hours as you stroll its downtown streets, pause for a leisurely coffee, pop into a shop or two.

Perched on the western edge of Fidalgo Island (which is not actually an island!), this is the jumping-off point for ferries to the San Juan Islands. But it’s worth a few hours at least of your time in its own right, as we found.

One feature of Anacortes is the Anacortes Murals Project, created by local artist Bill Mitchell. Over 150 images of local characters past and present adorn the buildings on and around the main street, Commercial Avenue.

Unusually they are not painted directly on to the buildings but on plywood. Although attached to the buildings they are owned by Mitchell. He has taken this step to ensure they can’t be painted over or destroyed; if a building’s owner no longer wanted to host a mural it could be detached and moved elsewhere.

Man sitting by mural of lady with children
The sign explains that the building dates from 1905 and was once a dry goods store

As well as the locals depicted there is also a sprinkling of famous people (John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe outside the theatre, Andrew Carnegie outside the former library) and a few imaginary ones (such as a mermaid) and even animals (a gorilla who once lived in a zoo here). I even spotted a Bigfoot!

Mural of hairy figure and woman in conical red hat
Bigfoot artist and ???

What I hadn’t realised at the time and have since discovered is that Bill Mitchell is a quadriplegic, having been paralysed as a teenager in a car accident on Whidbey Island, making his contribution to the recent revival of Anacortes’ downtown area all the more impressive. This selection of my favourite of his works is shared for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge.

Mural of small boat and people in old fashioned clothes
Customs official and locals
Mural of old car and lots of men standing around
From an old photo
Mural of family with old Ford car
Old car, new car

I visited Washington State in 2017


  • Natalie

    Such impressive work from the artist who is a quadriplegic. Very good shots, Sarah. Sometimes it’s tough to get the entire murals when they’re wide.

  • Easymalc

    Wall Art can both excite and annoy people in equal measures, but as long as it’s appropriate to the area where it is, then it has to be an asset to the community. These murals are exactly that – and what an achievement for the artist! Another super post Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I agree Malcolm – I don’t think anyone could be annoyed by this particular wall art, especially as the paintings aren’t even directly on to the walls 🙂

  • rkrontheroad

    How interesting that the murals are not directly on the buildings. It gives them an extra dimension, especially the people images which remind me of cut outs I’ve done with students in a photography project. The story of the quadriplegic artist is quite amazing.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know what you mean about the cut-out effect Ruth – it makes them quite distinctive. For anyone to create these would be quite impressive but I agree, the fact that the artist is quadriplegic makes them extra special 🙂

  • Marsha

    Sarah, this is another great story. I think I’ve been to Anacortes, but not wandered around. Is that where you catch the ferry boats to the San Juan Islands and to Victoria? I love the artwork, and also the fact that it can be moved it the building owner gets tired of it. I can’t imagine how he did this. Did he paint with his teeth?

    When I was about twenty our church hosted a young paraplegic artist Joni Earekson who painted with her teeth. She told us that it didn’t matter what you used, if the art was inside you, you could get it out. She was such an inspiration. It sounds like this Bill had her same unstoppable artistic talent.

    Thanks again for sharing this wonderful display of public art, Sarah. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Marsha 🙂 Yes, we caught the ferry from her to Friday Harbor and I believe you can also go to Victoria from the same port. And also yes, I think he must use his mouth to paint. It’s inspirational that a young man can have such an appalling accident and yet do something so positive with his life.

      • Marsha

        Yes, it is. Super talented and painting such large works. You’d go blind being so close. I’m super impressed. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Alison

    Such great murals and artwork. A great idea too from the artist, you see a lot of graffiti on murals, almost like a jealousy. We saw a lot of murals in Kalgoorlie that had been defaced.

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