BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The salmon are running in Bellingham... up a river of concrete? In a new mural lining North Forest St. near downtown Bellingham, Jason LaClair, an artist of Lummi and Nooksack heritage, and local mural artist Gretchen Leggit have collaborated to transform a formerly vandalized wall for the city’s project of spotlighting local art and preventing graffiti.
Covering the wall with giant Coast Salish-style salmon, the two artists took this as an opportunity to tell an ancient story.
“My ancestors survived for thousands of years because of the salmon people,” LaClair explained, “And there was always this kind of unspoken, unwritten agreement between the Coast Salish people and the salmon people, and the salmon people always promised to provide for our villages as long as we kept our word on taking care of mother nature and the Salish Sea.”
Leggit was excited to work with LaClair to pay homage to the cultural heritage of the region.
“I've admired Coast Salish artwork my entire life and what an honor to work with Jason and to be able to infuse his style and the style of his ancestors into this work,” Leggit said, “Very proud of this mural.”
So far, the community members driving by the mural seem to be taking pride in it as well, with at least one car per minute giving the artists a honk of approval.
"We've had a lot of amazing support from our community passing by," Leggit said.
But the mural is not just for Bellingham locals.
“It’s also a way to let tourists know when they come to our town that there are Coast Salish people that live here,” LaClair emphasized.
Soon, this massive mural will be finished.
“It's gonna feel like I can't believe I did that,” LaClair said, “A feeling of joy, excitement, you know. Accomplishment.”
This was LaClair and Leggit's first time working together, and LaClair's first time using spray paint as a medium.
"This is going to be the beginning of many," LaClair smiled.
With the help of this new mural, the story of the salmon and the Coast Salish people will continue -- just as it has for generations.