John Freese grew up seeing art around the San Francisco Bay Area, and for the past several decades, he's channeled that inspiration by painting murals around Estacada.
"My parents and I would go to museums, and I saw work done by Renaissance masters, modernists and abstract expressionists at an early age," he said, noting that this enriched his life as an artist.
Freese has lived in the Estacada area since the 1970s and is a founding member of The Artback, the group responsible for the collection of murals that decorate downtown Estacada. This summer, Artback will restore Freese's 2001 design, "The Longhouse Mural," at 280 S. Broadway St. The work will take place during the Estacada Summer Celebration, Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, on Broadway Street.
"The Longhouse Mural" is inspired by Pacific Northwest Native art, of which Freese appreciates many elements. He noted that although many subjects are abstracted, a viewer can still see what they are.
"You look at a bear and it looks abstract, but if you look closely you can tell it's a bear," he said. "I try my hardest to respect that style."
In the mural, totem poles and other structures are on display as native people navigate the river through a boat.
Freese is looking forward to seeing the mural restored. He noted that Artback's earliest projects were designed with house paint, and the restorations use a more durable acrylic paint.
"I hope it turns out better. The color will be better," Freese said, discussing the restoration. "I hope the community likes it. The community seems to appreciate the murals."
Artback has created or restored a mural every year since 1994. In addition to "The Longhouse Mural," Freese was the lead artist on "The Early Trains of Estacada," "Hamatsa Dance," and "Fishing Celilo Falls."
Freese described working on the murals as "a really social experience."
"Most people can talk endlessly and still work," he said.
One of his favorite memories is sharing a meal with his fellow artists at the mural site as they work on the design.
"We kick back and break bread," he said.
He appreciates the variety of artists who are members of the group.
"I try to use the talents of Artback when I design the mural," he said. "We have some really talented people. Any color study you can do, Artback can put on the wall."
He noted that there are additional factors that affect murals, such as weather for outdoor designs.
"Murals are never guaranteed," he said. "Da Vinci did 'The Last Supper,' and 50 years later, the building owner decided he wanted a door (on the wall that held the mural)."
In addition to working on murals with the Artback, Freese is also an oil painter. He is inspired by a variety of subjects, including landscapes, still life and portraiture, and uses a pointillism style.
Freese is proud to have been involved with Artback since the group's earliest days.
"Nobody quite does what we do. We're a group that does the project of a lead artist, and we're a mix of professionals and amateurs," he said. "The mural projects plowed the way for the Summer Celebration."