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Chris Haberman’s mural on a previously blank wall at Milwaukie High School represents the felicitous convergence of public art, local lore and transportation.


PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Chris Haberman, a 1991 graduate of Milwaukie High School, adds details to his artMOB-commissioned mural, painted on a previously blank wall at the high school.The city’s arts committee, artMOB, chose Haberman’s design for the wall at MHS as a pilot project for the mural program, he said.

Haberman grew up in Milwaukie and graduated from MHS in 1991 and believes artMOB chose him “because of my connections to the city and the school.”

PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - This muscular horse is a centerpiece of the mural as well as a depiction of a mustang, the MHS mascot.Those connections have supplied all the content represented in the mural, from the central motif of the giant galloping mustang, the school’s mascot, to depictions of events, businesses and people, central to Milwaukie’s history.

Due to the mural’s location, just opposite the downtown Milwaukie/Main Street MAX Orange Line station, when the light-rail line opens on Sept. 12, riders will be able to take in fleeting glimpses of all that history on display.

City-sponsored art

Mitch Nieman, assistant to the Milwaukie city manager and the staff liaison to artMOB, said the arts organization selected Haberman’s design through a competitive interview process.

“Chris’s fee and materials were paid for exclusively via a supplemental budget appropriation by the City Council to the arts committee. TriMet agreed to pay for an anti-graffiti/UV protective coating, and the high school provided in-kind staff time and resources to facilitate the project,” Nieman said.

“The project is definitive of a multicollaborative community public-art project. Citizen volunteers (artMOB), partnered with a local artist, the public high school and a regional transit agency to catalyze a sense of vibrancy and spirit into a downtown that is under transformation and is experiencing a renaissance,” he said.

Nieman described the mural, still in progress, as “incredible,” adding that it “is certainly exceeding the community’s expectations. It definitely adds value to the portfolio of the public-art installations located in downtown and throughout the city, and it visually pops while standing at the new light-rail station.”

Local history

The city wanted a “big, bright, colorful” mural and wanted the piece to provide a sense of local history along with connections to MHS, Haberman said.

“Milwaukie is a small town that is tied to the high school. The mustang also is tied to the school, as its mascot, and I was raised here,” he said.

The mural, he added, is his way to honor the city.

The huge piece is a visual feast of people, places and things with connections to Milwaukie.

“I want to show something of Milwaukie’s history, then and now. That’s why there’s a pioneer wagon train contrasting with modern train tracks. There’s a steamboat and ships coming down the Willamette — the mural has a lot to do with travel and settlement and why people moved here,” Haberman said.

Historical figures also are depicted in the piece, including Lot Whitcomb and local American Indians, he said.

Haberman added that he’s grateful to MHS art teacher Lori Moe-Burgener, who gave him “the techniques and tools” to express himself.

“Art has been fun for me, and I did learn from art class. My style is to create what’s coming out of me.”

He added, “artMOB has been super supportive, and it is neat to be back here in my hometown.”

The mural will be completed by Aug. 15, and will be dedicated on Sept. 12, when the Orange Line opens.

Energetic piece’

Michael Fell currently is an art teacher at MHS, and since he is nearly the same age as Haberman, did not have him as a student. However, he has watched the progress of the mural, and said what he loves about the project is Haberman’s pride in growing up in Milwaukie.

“This is Chris coming back full circle to Milwaukie ... giving back and sharing a huge part of himself with the community. I’m very proud of Chris and this incredible painting. I can think of no better person to paint this bright, fun and energetic piece on this massive wall,” Fell said.

“I knew when the city came to me about ideas for a mural that Chris was the obvious answer to what was needed for this wall. He has spent months researching Milwaukie’s history, interviewing people, reading archives and working out his concept. When speaking to Chris about his artwork, he becomes animated and excited to share what he has learned about his subjects,” Fell said.

He added, “What looks like an explosion of color and images to the casual viewer is actually full of purposeful intent. His tight, busy and compact images come to life, and every image, line, color and word have very specific meaning and reference to what it is he’s painting.”

TriMet

Haberman’s mural is not an official MAX Orange Line project, but when Michelle Traver, public art project manager for TriMet, was asked to be a technical reviewer for it, she recommended that a graffiti barrier be applied to help with long-term durability.

“Due to the very limited budget of the mural project and immediate adjacency of the mural to the future Milwaukie/Main Street Station, we’re providing professionally applied graffiti barrier protection,” she said.

Her favorite aspect of the mural is “how the layers of image and text evolve as Chris paints.”

Traver added, “It is site specific, relating to its location, but is highly recognizable as a work by Chris Haberman. It also includes historic information, yet uses a very contemporary language to do so. Lastly, it helps to activate the area and creates a connection between the school and the station. It no longer has its back to the station.”

Upcoming Orange Line events

The public is invited to a free Trolley Trail and Kellogg Bridge artwork walking tour from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 7. It starts at the Southeast Park Avenue Station and continues along the Trolley Trail to the Kellogg Bridge.

Another free event, Transit on Tap, takes place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 10, at Wine:30, 10835 S.E. Main St., in Milwaukie. The TriMet Public Art team will be discussing all of the artwork along the entire 7.3-mile MAX Orange Line alignment.

Chris Haberman

Hometown boy: Chris Haberman graduated from Milwaukie High School in 1991, but has deeper ties. His mother graduated from MHS in 1953. He worked at Dark Horse Comics for a time, and completed an interior mural for the Health Center at MHS two years ago.

Education: Haberman attended Clackamas Community College and graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in arts and letters and English and a master’s degree in American literature and culture.

Employment: Haberman is an artist, professional freelance curator, and worked as the art coordinator and curator for three seasons of “Portlandia.” He also is the creative director and founder of Portland City Art, an art gallery at Pioneer Place in downtown Portland.

Mission: “My goals are to be creative and to work with inspiring people, while fulfilling my desires for self-expression and helping others in the community attain the same goals. I am a natural leader, listener and communicator; book-smart and streetwise at the same time, a multi-tasking hard worker that is passionate about anything creative,” he said.

Next up: After he completes the MHS mural, Haberman will show about 30 paintings based on “a whimsical look at Lou Reed’s music.”

For more information about Haberman, and to see images of his work, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/chris.haberman.

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