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Hidden in flowers: New mural to introduce Fall City’s hidden cultures

This detail of the Hmong Flower Mural coming to Fall City shows some of the flowers grown in the Valley.  - Courtesy photo
This detail of the Hmong Flower Mural coming to Fall City shows some of the flowers grown in the Valley.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Each spring and summer, a group of Valley farmers works diligently at the land, bringing up gorgeous crops of dahlias and lilies, tulips and irises. Then they go out and sell them, at roadside stands and in farmers markets from here to Pike’s Place. The farmers are easily overlooked amid their lavish bouquets.

“They really have a pretty big presence, but a lot of people living here don’t know anything about them,” said Arika Rapson, the chairperson of a  Fall City Arts project intending to change that fact.

They are Hmong farmers, mostly immigrants from Laos, Rapson said, and there are about 30 flower farms in and around Fall City. That’s more than enough to make them a community, and one that Fall City Arts wants to shine a light on.

With the goal of covering the city’s increasing amounts of racist and obscene graffiti, the organization pursued and received grant funding from 4Culture’s Interagency Collaborative Projects fund. The grant called for a multicultural project, which was almost a challenge.

Arts member Sharlet Driggs remembered early conversations around the idea that “We don’t have any ethnic communities in this area — which was surprising and disturbing at the same time.”

Actually, those communities are here, but they’re nearly invisible to other cultures, so Fall City Arts decided to center a project on one of three, the Snoqualmie Tribe, the Hispanic culture or the Hmong farmers. It took time to find an appropriate project and location, Rapson said — “if it’s hidden in some back alley where no one is ever going to see it, that’s kind of a waste,” — but the work begins later this month, and in the perfect spot.

“The community that we chose to focus on as the hidden culture in our community is the Hmong flower farmers in and around the Valley,” said Rapson.

The location is the back wall of the Fall City Bistro, where artist Dan Colvin will paint a large mural of the flowers, the river, and the cyclical nature of both. It will be highly visible, just off the S.R. 203 roundabout, and perfect because of the connections  already being made there.

“The chef, Sean (Langan), his whole deal about what he wants to be in the community is he wants to support local, organic farming,” Rapson said.

He also wanted to put locally grown flowers on his tables, she said, but he had no contacts with the growers, until Fall City Arts contacted him about painting a mural about the Hmong flower farmers on his building.

“Not only can we get them starting to bring in the flowers and produce into the Bistro, but it can become this ongoing conversation piece,” Rapson said. “It just fits in so beautifully with what they’re already doing. It was just a perfect match, and we’re really excited about that.”

Flowers inside and flowers outside, along with other symbols borrowed from Hmong story quilts, tell part of the story of the farmers, “and in particular, the challenges that they face in flooding.”

Every farmer in the Valley suffers in floods, but the Hmong crops are among the most fragile in high water.

“They often go out in their fields in these boats or canoes and try to salvage what they can,” said Rapson, who appreciates that this aspect of the people is included in the mural. “Just doing flowers might be a little bit flat,” she said. “That added dimension of that dance between the flowers and the flooding was kind of a compelling idea.”

Both large and small components will go into the mural, Rapson said. People can walk up to it and find creative details, but those in passing cars will be able to enjoy it, too, especially after some blackberries are cleared from the area.

“You will see it if you’re coming from Snoqualmie and you’re slowing down for that roundabout… you’ll see it for about 30 seconds if you’re actually going the speed limit,” said Rapson.

Colvin will start work on the mural later this month, and expects to be finished in early September, when Fall City Arts will host an unveiling event.

Public art has been a proven defense against graffiti artists in the past. For instance, Driggs and Rapson both said the Fall City’s Arts Park mural has never been tagged, although several nearby buildings are frequent targets for vandals.

“It’s really blank walls that get hit,” said Driggs. “When a  mural is in place, or art work is in place, they actually rarely get tagged.”

“There’s a pretty good case that most kids are just looking for a blank canvas,” said Rapson.

Last summer, deputies arrested a 17 year-old boy who was connected to 15 separate instances of graffiti in the area.

Vandalism or no, Fall City Arts is committed to maintaining the new mural for the next seven years, as a condition of the grant.

Rapson envisions the Hmong Flower Mural as the first of several public art projects in Fall City.

“We’re hoping that people will see this mural, and it will set off some good energy in the community.”

Artist Dan Colvin, pictured at work in his studio, will create a new Hmong Flower Mural for Fall City Arts, on an exterior wall of the Fall City Bistro.

 

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