Time for a touch-up
In the spring of 2011, an international artist with local ties ended up in Paulina, working with 39 rural students to create a mural on the side of their school building that pays homage to their Western heritage.
Since then, the brilliant summer sun, spring rains and harsh winters have taken a toll on the colorful mural, leaving it in need of restoration.
The whole idea for a mural on one side of the school building had surfaced a few years before any paint was applied when a teacher thought some art could enhance the building.
The idea became reality when the Skyline Trail Riders Association pitched in some funding.
Jim Wood had brought the Skyline Trail Riders to the Upper Country. The group gets together annually for backcountry horseback riding trips in rural parts of Oregon.
"They've done this in other areas," Jim Wood explained. "Ranches have hosted their events, and they gave back to the local schools."
The group's initial donation provided music and science lessons as well as writers in residence and an artist in residence of sorts.
Ken Wolverton moved to Oregon from Pueblo, Colorado, when he was a youngster and graduated from Bend High School in 1963. His brothers have ranched in the Post/Paulina valley, and he even lived in the area for a time.
But, he moved on, and for more than 40 years has created public art as an international artist. His artworks are in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Guatemala and America. His work has spanned murals, sculptures, performance arts, theater, movie sets and numerous writing and photo publications.
In 2011, he added a stint in Paulina, Oregon, to his resume.
Wolverton's niece, Dawn Camara, lived in Post at the time, and her children attended Paulina School. After the Skyline Trail Riders' donation, Camara wondered if her uncle would like to take on a new project.
He delightfully agreed and made the trek from his home in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico, to the heart of Oregon.
But rather than simply showing up, painting the mural, and heading to his next job, Wolverton made it a community project.
"They were thinking about closing the school in Paulina," Wolverton recalls. "Jim Wood was involved in the Trail Riders, and they thought it would be a good way to do a community activism thing of involving the kids. I've specialized in doing collaborative murals for years with children."
Before he arrived, he predesigned a basic image, incorporating the students' drawings that represented the area's heritage.
"It was the beginning of May. We had one or two days that were fairly nice and then it turned out cool and gray and rainy," Wolverton recalls. "It wasn't the nicest time to be painting on a wall."
Nonetheless, the nearly 40 students became experts at murals.
"It was paint by numbers in a way because I graphed it all out in the beginning, but once the kids got started, it was really them creating as they went, as painters," Wolverton said. "They learned in a monumental kind of scale what mural painting is about as opposed to studio painting."
The Buckaroo Mural stretches over about 100 feet on the north side of the building and is about 14-feet high.
"There are five different panels. It was broken up with not only bracing that came down the walls but doors and signs for the school, so it wasn't just a clear wall," Wolverton explained. "I designed the mural so it complimented the architecture of the building as opposed to just ignoring it."
The artists incorporated the natural wildlife, such as antelope, elk and coyotes, as well as the early post office, pioneers, a homestead and local cattle brands.
"We tried to get images of buckaroos and cattle and fields, so it was really an overall imagery of what makes up the Post/Paulina valley in five different panels," Wolverton explained.
He said it was a total delight to work with the kids in Paulina.
"They are like how kids were back in the 1950s," he laughed. "Really nice. Really wonderful children that make you believe that there's hope for America."
Fast forward seven-and-a-half years, and the mural was needing a little TLC.
"I was coming back for my 55th high school reunion in Bend, and Jim Wood heard about it, and he said there'd been a little bit of damage done to the mural," Wolverton said.
Wood reached out to the Skyline Trail Riders, who granted some funding, and the Crook County School District covered the rest of the cost.
Wolverton spent Sept. 18-20 bringing the beloved mural back to its original state and educating the 19 current Paulina School students about the history of murals.
"There was minimal damage and not too much that was really wrong with it, but on the other hand, it's like dentistry. If you catch a cavity early on, you solve the problem," he laughed. "There were numerous small cavities in the mural that, had they not been resolved, maybe in the next 10 years, there would be a big problem."
This time, the painter worked alone. Touch-up work is complicated and not something he could turn over to little kids.
At the end of his three-day maintenance project, Wolverton gave a slideshow presentation to the students, educating them on the history of art and murals.
"Murals were really the first text books of civilization," he said.
Jamie Bedortha, who teaches students in fourth through eighth grade, said they loved his presentation.
"Ken showed some wonderful murals that he has done all over the world, talked about his travels and also did a 'name game' art activity," she said. "It was a wonderful way for our students to get to see and interact with an artist."
Kortni Papineau, the kindergarten through third-grade teacher, added that the students were fascinated with his accomplishments and his intriguing personality.
School staff are appreciative of the support from the school district, notably Leland Bliss, for keeping this mural fresh and helping Paulina School honor the past work of students, staff, families and community members who originally spent time on it.
"This mural is a representation of our Western heritage with many brands honoring a diverse timeline of ranching families in the community," Bedortha said.