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The Marshall plan

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The first thing you notice when walking into Richard Burhans' studio is the portrait of James Edwards and his two children, a towering vertical tableau more than 7 feet tall, its oil paint gleaming in the sunlight.

The first question that comes to mind is how did Burhans, who, shall we say, is significantly shorter than 7 feet, paint it?

The first question that came to Burhans' mind when he found out he would be painting Edwards, a former All-American basketball player for the University of Washington who won three NBA championship rings during a stint with the Chicago Bulls, was this: James who?

"I didn't know who James Edwards was. But I knew he wasn't a clerk at Costco," Burhans said.

Now he knows better, and his basketball knowledge is slowly expanding. For instance, he knows Clifford Robinson plays for the Detroit Pistons, and the best way to make Sacramento Kings star Doug Christie smile is to needle him about going against Gary Payton.

Those three NBA players are among the many faces contained within Burhans' latest work. But instead of being displayed throughout the community, this particular project was made for a more selective audience: potential clients of Seattle attorney Bradley Marshall.

"This man is a genius," Marshall said of the North Bend painter, whose work can be found, among other places, hanging inside the local Starbucks coffeehouse, the North Bend Library and the Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Club, as well as decorating Snoqualmie's City Hall before an earthquake forced the building's closure last year.

"He tried to describe what he was going to do, but his work is undescribable."

It was during a stop at Starbucks in North Bend that Marshall - who is currently representing the family of Robert Lee Thomas Sr., the man shot and killed by an off-duty King County sheriff's deputy in April - first saw one of Burhans' paintings, which portrays the tradition of drinking coffee throughout the ages.

"I was so impressed with the paintings I had to figure out who had done them," said Marshall. He soon realized that he'd seen another of Burhans' works at the golf club, of which he is a member.

At the same time, the attorney was looking for a change. He wanted to find a way to make his law firm and his sports management business, Marshall Harris Sports Management, stand out, and to do so in a way that reflected his personal values.

He contacted Burhans, and the two men hit upon an idea: Burhans would paint a series of murals that represented Marshall's background. Each one would focus on a specific theme. The murals would be used in a new brochure for The Marshall Firm and the sports management business, and on the firm's revamped Web site. They would also be placed strategically inside the law firm's office in Seattle.

Burhans has been working on the project since November. He had some concerns at the start, namely that, like Edwards, he didn't know very much about Marshall. He was afraid if he didn't like the attorney, it would affect the final product.

"If you really don't like the person ... that really shows up in the painting," he said.

But shortly, Marshall won him over. The first thing Burhans did was create a script that described what themes the panels would reflect. From there, he photographed and videotaped the people Marshall wanted to be included in the murals.

Among them was Christie, who graduated from Rainier Beach in 1988. Burhans visited Christie at his home in Seattle and videotaped him for the project, getting the Sacramento Kings guard to smile by asking, "You came all this way to get beat up by Gary Payton?"

Following that, Burhans painted smaller "rough" versions of the murals, and then traced the same scene onto the larger panels. Each mural has a scripted letter to introduce the theme, such as "E" for education and "S" for sports.

"These people are generally very involved and very important people in his life," Burhans said. "Bradley was very apprehensive to start because the people are very important to him."

They are former clients. They are students at the Seattle Pacific University School of Business and Economics and the University of Washington School of Law, where he teaches as an adjunct professor.

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