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‘Uplifting’ reaction to a negative time

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"Uplifting" is the name of this Ashland public artwork by Krista Hepford. (Photo by Peter Finkle)
Ashland piece of public art intended to inspire kindness

If you live in or drive through Ashland, you may have seen this public artwork many times. But have you noticed it?

“Uplifting” is a large ceramic tile wall mural on the side of the Abbey Carpet & Floor building, 1668 Siskiyou Blvd., in Ashland. It is next to Branson's Chocolate shop and across the street from House of Thai restaurant.

Before she thought of creating art on the wall, artist Krista Hepford was a customer of Abbey Carpet & Floor. The long blank wall on the side of the building, visible from Siskiyou Boulevard, was hard to miss. Plus it was a magnet for graffiti painters.

"A wall in sad distress called out to me," Hepford said.

“I have an interior design degree. I was remodeling my house and coming here to get supplies. I saw them throwing beautiful glass tiles into the dumpster. I asked why and was told, ‘Well, they're discontinued.’ So I said to Eric Austed and Dan Leary (the store owners), ‘Why don't you take that stuff you’re throwing out and turn it into art on your wall instead?’”

At that point, Hepford had no idea what image to put on the wall, just the inspiration to turn trash into something beautiful. It turned out to be a very large “something.”

How the artwork was named is a fun story.

Hepford received approval in early 2016 from the owners of Abbey Carpet & Floor to install a mosaic wall mural on the side of the building. But she was stuck. She had ideas, but none seemed right for the spot.

She collected ceramic tile materials for a year, piled them up behind the building, and kept thinking about the project.

"Then I saw a paint swatch at Bi-Mart, that yellow color," Hepford said as she pointed to the wall. "That kinda looks like the creamy yellow of the Ashland Springs Hotel downtown. I like things to look like they belong. And the name of the paint swatch was 'Uplifting.'"

"No way," I replied, incredulous. "That's how 'Uplifting' got its name," Hepford confirmed with a laugh. She even showed me a photo of the paint swatch.

There were many challenges to overcome. Her first step was to build trust.

This happened multiple times in the art project, first with Austed and Leary. They only knew her as a customer. They didn't know what she could do, and here she was asking to take over the side of their building.

I spoke with the two building owners, who expressed appreciation for Krista's work ethic and for the finished artwork. They were impressed by her ability to navigate the city approval process, raise money for the project, hustle for donations of materials, recruit and train volunteer helpers, plus put in countless hours over a period of almost two years.

“We are very grateful to Krista and to all the people who helped,” Austed said. “I would hope the mural puts a smile on a few faces.”

Second, she built trust with the neighbors of the new artwork. She made a computer-generated illustration to show how the “Uplifting” mosaic would look on the side of the building. Then, along with her daughter, she took the illustration with a petition and knocked on every business and residential door in the immediate area.

“We showed them the mock-up and asked them to sign if they liked the art,” Hepford said. “We got 100%. Not a single person said, ‘No, I don't want that.’”

Showing the mock-up to neighbors jump-started her fundraising.

The acupuncturist across the street is a runner and offered to organize a 5K run to raise money for the artwork. Deena Branson at Branson's Chocolate offered to make custom chocolate bars for Hepford to sell for fundraising.

Hepford expressed again and again during our talk that “Uplifting” was a community project. From fundraising to construction to simple encouragement, many people chipped in to help her create the artwork.

Detail of Uplifting public art. (Photo by Peter Finkle)

From its name, a design began to crystallize in Hepford's imagination. She explained how difficult the year 2016 had been for her, with so much negative news in the media. It weighed on her, the feeling she is only one person and she can't do anything about it.

"It started to overwhelm me," she said, "and that mixed with finding the ‘Uplifting’ idea led to this design as my reaction to all the negativity in the world. That's why there are all different colors, because there are no races in here. Most of all, it's about being kind to one another, reaching out to one another."

Hepford has been an online art teacher and artist for many years, but she took a circuitous route to get here. She was raised in a musical family, and in high school felt pushed to meet her parents' expectations to pursue music rather than art. After high school, she studied accounting and went to work for General Motors.

Later, she felt an inner calling to go back to college to study art and interior design. Since then, she has taught art in Arizona, Kansas, and for a while at Willow Wind school in Ashland, as well as online.

“I hope you will take the inspiration you have from this artwork and go do some good,” she says.

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.