By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Have you ever wondered what “The Simpsons” and renowned counterculture author Ken Kesey have in common?
You’ll find both in downtown Springfield. However, while an unofficial “Moe's Tavern” is nearby, only Ken Kesey has a direct connection to local beer.
Old City Artists, with offices in both Studio City, Calif. and Portland, painted a 15-foot-by-30-foot mural of the long-running animated TV show in 2014. Old City has also worked with Nike, Disney and Madison Square Garden. Then, during four days in August 2015, Old City Artists returned to Springfield to paint a new mural — photorealistic and two stories tall — of Ken Kesey, the Merry Prankster of the 1960s, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion,” and graduate of Springfield High School (where he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”). Kesey originally moved to Springfield in 1946 and lived much of his life just south of town in the rural community of Pleasant Hill. He died in 2001. The Kesey mural is on the wall of the Odd Fellows Building at 346 Main St., better known as Plank Town Brewing Company.
“The City of Springfield approached Plank Town with their idea to honor Ken Kesey,” says Bart Caridio, owner of Plank Town and Eugene-based Sam Bond’s Brewing, as well as the pubs Sam Bond’s Garage (Eugene) and the Axe & Fiddle (Cottage Grove). “The Odd Fellows were instrumental in agreeing to this idea, agreeing to have the mural on their building, and Plank Town just had to agree to have in on their business. It was a big fat ‘YES’ from both parties."
A panel of Springfield civic and business representatives, including Caridio and Kesey family members, put out a call for designs. The panel reviewed and selected the final design from eight submissions. Caridio recalls the design’s innovative incorporation of the wall’s windows and building elements as being key in the panel’s decision. The winning design was by Craig Ferroggiaro of Portland-based Willamette Valley Color, who has also created images for Swiss Army, Toyota and Apple. The $28,000 project cost was funded by Springfield hotel taxes.
Once selected, Old City Artists collaborated closely with the Kesey family to include memorabilia in the bookcase that is the primary part of the mural, such as the tie-dyed FURTHUR bus that Kesey and his fellow Merry Pranksters drove around the U.S. during the counterculture movement of the 1960s. In a video about the mural, Old City Artists described its “impossible idea” to tell Kesey’s story as a “father, farmer, magician, writer, athlete and counterculture icon,” focusing on imagery such as the bookshelf, a family photo and a concert ticket. “The mural is at once simple and complicated — just like Ken,” concludes Old City Artists. In addition to owner Erik Nicolaisen, Old City Artists members Christopher Slaymaker, Eduardo Garcia, and Patrick McGregor worked on the mural. The finished piece was unveiled and dedicated at a public celebration, also attended by Rep. Peter DeFazio, on Aug. 28, 2015.
Since its opening in 2013, Plank Town has become a cornerstone of downtown renewal in Springfield, once known more for strip joints and dive bars, and now increasingly known for craft beer, the performing arts and small businesses. Along with Hop Valley Brewing Co., Plank Town serves as a Springfield destination — particularly for folks working their way along the Eugene Ale Trail of breweries. The mural, Plank Town is finding, also gives people another reason to visit downtown Springfield and stop in for a pint.
“We all have noticed that there has been a pickup of tourism to check out the mural,” says Michelle Long of Plank Town. “It's pretty common now to look out the side window of the restaurant and see someone across the street taking pictures and staring at the building for quite a while to read and discover every part of the memorabilia in the bookcase. It's not uncommon to see people quite taken and going through a range of emotions while looking at the mural.”
Long sees the mural as enriching the Springfield art scene and enhancing the city’s growing reputation and new identity as a destination for art, culture, food, craft beverages and the outdoors. “Springfield has Second Friday Art Walks,” explains Long. “Adding another mural in the downtown area of this caliber is wonderful for getting people to notice what lovely things we have going on out here.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.