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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

A New Mural is in Town


A New Mural is in Town

Welcomes Tourists and Celebrates History in Grants Pass

Story and photography by Sierra Dawn Warren, MA, MFTA


Driving down 6th Street in Grants Pass just got cooler, thanks to a serious artistic upgrade by local artist Cate Battles. Battles, recently honored with Southern Oregon’s Best Artist Award, joined forces with long-time historical steward, building owner, and downtown lover, Ward Warren, to bring this iconic vision to life. 


Sierra Dawn sat down with Cate and Ward to learn more about the history of this sweet new selfie spot in Grants Pass.


SD: What was the motivation for the mural?

WW: As an ‘art aficionado’, I’ve always supported local art in our downtown and murals are my favorite. I’d been wanting to do a local history-based mural featuring icons of Grants Pass and surrounding area for years.  My building on 6th Street, at the entrance to the Downtown Historic District, presented the perfect palette. As a kid, I collected postcards on family road trips and always liked the ones that featured a town’s welcome murals with colorful graphics. I serve as the chair of the City’s Historical Buildings & Sites Commission and part of our mission, in addition to preservation, is informing and educating the public about our history. This mural accomplishes that simply and beautifully. Another aspect of our mission is to promote our Historic Downtown and other historic resources. Again, this mural fulfills that goal by welcoming tourists to Grants Pass at a very visible, high-traffic location right at the entrance to downtown. It has already become a popular and accessible “selfie spot” which will really kick into high gear with tourist season approaching. It's very gratifying to witness the admiration and appreciation of the mural from tourists and locals alike, while also creating a beautiful, illustrated tribute to our town and its history. At the same time, it’s building community pride.


SD: How did you choose the artist?

WW: In years past, I had worked with a mural artist from Eastern Oregon, but when he became unavailable, I turned to Cate, a local whose art I greatly admired. I commissioned her to do a couple of small paintings to see how well she could bring my vision to life and was so happy with the results that I knew she was THE ONE! It was her very first big mural, but she was confident and excited. She has a real appreciation for things historic and is kind of a hip ‘old soul’. Cate has done an amazing job, surpassing my expectations and it has been fun working with her to achieve this phenomenal work of art.


SD: Can you tell me about the history of the building?

The historic building located at 232 NW 6th St is a very large brick-and-mortar, which is actually two adjoining buildings that share a common wall and were built between 1900-1910.  The building has a long and diverse mixed-use history. I purchased the building in 2014 and have been restoring and improving it since. I have a vision for the building and how it can continue to contribute to the success of our popular, historic downtown for another 125 years. I plan to lease or sell it this summer.

SD: Who are you, anyway?

WW: I’ve been a retail business owner in downtown Grants Pass since the 1980s and have also owned and renovated a number of historic brick-and-mortars in the Downtown Historic District over the years. I have now restored or created large murals on four buildings downtown. This new one is my favorite!


SD: Cate, can you share about your background as an artist?
CB: Art has been a lifelong passion of mine, from childhood art workshops and college to my first studio in Asheville, North Carolina’s River Arts District. However, my career as an artist “took-off” quite literally when my husband and I sold our business and home, and traded in our sedentary lifestyle for a home on wheels. Our Airstream adventures have taken us over 70,000 miles around North America, and we eventually picked Grants Pass, Oregon as our new home-base. The diverse and changing landscapes around the country, as well as the freedom of the open road are often the inspiration for my paintings and photography. When we aren’t on the move, I run my art studio in downtown Grants Pass as well as manage our Airstream travel blog, Argosy Odyssey, that features the adventures of Frankie the goat, our trusty travel companion.   I’m mostly commission based these days, including portraits, landscapes, murals, and hand painted logos and commercial work. In addition to my oil and watercolor paintings, I’m also a photographer and love sharing the beauty of home here in Southern Oregon as well as the landscapes around the country. Though a good portion of my work is custom, I still show my other paintings and prints around the Rogue Valley and art festivals.

SD: What was it like working on this project?
CB: It’s been a pleasure making Ward’s vision come to life. I think the community as a whole has a huge appreciation for history, nature, and Americana. Creating a larger-than-life piece that reflects the spirit of Grants Pass will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for years to come. Hopefully, we will start seeing more murals erected downtown, whether commissioned by building owners (like Ward), the City of Grants Pass, or by organizations like Josephine County Cultural Coalition, who partially funded the mural.

As a collaborative project, both of us have poured our hearts into this piece as it reflects our passion for history, the arts, and the stunning scenery of Southern Oregon. We also wanted to convey inclusivity, which is why we found it vital to represent Indigenous figures and symbols since they have called the Rogue Valley home for thousands of years, as well as the Chinese who built the railroad and greatly contributed to Oregon’s Gold Rush. This mural is for all people.

Not only does this mural brighten our Historic Downtown, it’s made me happy to see how it brightens people’s day. I had an inkling people would be excited about this mural, but never would I have imagined how often people stop to say how much it elevates their spirit and makes them proud to live here. People have been very kind throughout this process, from dropping me off soup on cold days to leaving apres-work beers and even tips. The coolest thing has been meeting strangers who have shared how the mural reminds them of a memory of their life.

This project could not have been done without the hard work of my husband Chad, who has helped me grid, outline, paint and more. I’m a lucky gal!

SD: Any future plans?
CB: This year, I hope to paint more murals, begin a new painting series, and travel more.

WW: To celebrate the completion of the mural I’m planning to hold a community block party and am hoping to unveil some exciting new art and preservation projects this summer and fall…stay tuned!


Cate Battles Fine Art and Photography


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