This article was originally published in The Nugget Newspaper June 21, 2022
On a clear, sunny Wednesday morning after torrid downpours of a relentless spring, Sisters was beaming with natural beauty. On the south-facing wall of the public bathrooms in Barclay Park mural artists Karen Eland and Katie Daisy were busy installing a tribute to that beauty. After months of hard work, keen eyes, and careful strokes of the paint brush, their artistic depiction of Sisters Country was put on permanent display for locals and visitors to enjoy.
This is the sixth mural for the painting duo from Bend on what has been dubbed the “Mural Trail,” an artistic endeavor headed by Visit Central Oregon to honor the beauty residing in each Central Oregon town. Over the past two years they’ve depicted landscapes and local character onto panels, which are then installed in public spaces. La Pine, Sunriver, Maupin, and Redmond to name a few have been rewarded with their art. Sisters was next.
Karen’s and Katie’s love for Sisters is deep, so when they were approached in late 2021 to paint the landscape and wildlife of Sisters it was a task met with enthusiasm. Their research took them to Camp Sherman, where they studied the blue hues of the Metolius River and the colorful wildflowers that line it. Towering ponderosa pines near FivePine Lodge laid the scene in Karen’s mind. Over coffee at Sisters Coffee Company on a dreary day in early March, they sketched their vision on a blank piece of printer paper.
“We quickly realized this mural would need more depth than usual,” Karen said. “We chose to paint a scene of a ponderosa forest instead of the usual mountains, which we’d include into the lettering instead.”
Katie took the lead on designing a bold typeface lettering that would allow room to inlay the Three Sisters mountain landscape. Each mural is uniquely designed and inspired by the traditional “Greetings From” postcards, but represents a unique take on Central Oregon towns. They highlight their best features with an array of color and texture as diverse as the landscapes they portray.
Both Katie’s and Karen’s painting styles vary but complement each other in such a diverse setting. Karen specializes in the realism of each painting — putting her focus on wildlife and landscapes with mountains and trees, and the textures, fur, or feathers of the critters she paints. Katie’s specialty lies in floral design and the elaborate process of creating realistic but stylized portrayal of local foliage. Together they pick a color palette but individually shine in their own ways.
“It’s like a dance when we’re painting,” Katie said.
Each accomplished and successful artists in their own right, they both found the Sisters mural challenging.
“We decided to go with a simpler color palette this time instead of our usual yellows, oranges, pinks,” Katie explained. “We focused more on utilizing green, blue, and purple for this one, which, ironically, is more challenging than having multiple colors to work with.”
While Sisters is abundant with floral opportunities, she landed on a local favorite, the broadleaf lupine. Rich in purple hues, they adorn riversides and sidewalks throughout town. Katie chose to intersperse them among Karen’s rich green and brown ponderosa forest. After some more research she came across another elegant, yet rare flower called the Peck’s penstemon — a resilient perennial, a “pioneer plant” often found colonizing burn scars.
“I thought that would be nice to add,” she said.
Karen adds unique wildlife that best represent the places she illustrates. In this mural a mule deer buck looms in the bottom right corner, his four-point antlers in the foreground of the lettering and scenery. Always on the lookout for the opportunity to paint flying animals, she discovered the common Northern Saw-whet owl — a tiny cat-faced owl popular in the Pacific Northwest but represented big at the top left corner of the mural. Karen’s acute eye for detail is seen in the feathers as it swoops onto the lettering in the foreground and the intricate texture of the bark from a ponderosa tree.
After two months of painting, inspired from the original sketch created over coffee on cold winter day, their vision emerged into a 26-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall display revealing a few of Sisters Country’s charms. Katie’s floral design and bold font blends effortlessly into Karen’s forest and wildlife depictions as a window into the natural beauty surrounding Sisters.
On install day, passerby’s conveyed appreciation as the panels were hung. Karen and Katie applied some final touch-ups as the comments came: “Thanks for beautifying our town.” And, “Nice work ladies.”
Karen said they’ve never experience such a reception.
“I’m glad they like it, that’s what it’s here for,” she said, elated.
A couple traveling from Tigard to visit a family member battling cancer gazed at the mural as the last panel was installed, completing the image. They found some peace and tranquility in the image after a difficult visit.
“It’s a very serene and peaceful mural,” Katie said. “So I hope people can find that within it and feel that peace overcome them.”