Friday, September 30, 2011

Local TV News does story on the murals

Helena history murals 

on downtown walking mall

For several months now, local artist Lance Foster 
has been using his spare time to put up a series 
of murals in the downtown walking mall.
Foster was selected by the city to do the project two years 
ago. It's now nearing completion. Foster is focusing on 
what he remembers of the area as a child – namely the 
Chinatown area of downtown Helena and Big Dorothy's 
rooms, a long-closed bordello.
He says it's his way of celebrating all parts of Helena 
history, even if they were fringe elements of society in 
their time.
"It's part of who we are and as it says on the mural of 
Dorothy, any town that doesn't recognize its colorful side 
is a boring town to live in,” says Foster.
The murals are painted on entranceways in an alley off 
of the walking mall. The door frames allowed Foster a little 
fun – you can have your picture taken as if you're on 
Dorothy's bed or in a Chinese take-out box.

Story by Ryan Whalen, Beartooth NBC. Copyright ©2011
Beartooth Communications Company. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Painting the Mural: "Sometimes I Feel Like Chinese Takeout"

Start of Chinese Take-out Mural, painted the week of Sept. 16. Still to go: finishing the wire handle, the red characters on the carton, the title, and some touches of color here and there.

The wall completed. "Sometimes I feel like Chinese takeout" is a reference to this location being the hotspot for fantastic Chinese food for decades in Helena until Urban Renewal tore down the restaurants in the early 1970s. But also you can stand in the opening and -really- feel like you are Chinese takeout, and get your photo taken there to prove it!

Painting the Mural: Memory Wall

Behind the Dragon Wall, I painted the Memory Wall. I do not have the sequence on this one, as the photographer was away at that time and my camera was out of commission. It was begun Aug. 18 and completed Sept. 15. School began Aug. 29 and from then on I could only paint three mornings a week, so it took more time than otherwise it would have.

Helena once had a thriving Chinese community (aka Helena Chinatown) which reached from where the library is now, over to Reeder's Alley and up to the Chinese gardens at the split to Unionville and Grizzly Gulch. There were hundreds of Chinese that worked and lived here between 1865 through the 1890s, but they began to leave over the later decades until by the 1950s there were only a fraction of what there were previously. Abuse and racism took their toll. There had been Chinese physicians and herbalists, restaurants, stores, groceries, hotels, laundries, gaming houses. By the 1970s, there were pretty much only three descendant families left in Helena, to all accounts.

The completed Memory Wall. 
The art style is influenced by the Ashcan School of urban New York during the early 1900s and Muriel Wolle's paintings of the mining camps in Montana... I wanted it to be intimate, familiar, gritty, industrial. Wong See Q. was a leader in the Helena Chinese community.

List of historical sites in Helena with Chinese heritage.
These are the ones remembered by the descendant families still connected to Helena. There were once hundreds of Chinese and their businesses, most now lost to memory.

Helena in Chinese characters. 
Written Chinese is not alphabetic, each character represents an idea or word, but can also represent a syllable. Each of these three characters represents one of the three syllables in Helena, although it is pronounced differently in different Chinese languages, such as Cantonese (the Chinese language spoken by the great majority of Helena's Chinese population historically) and Mandarin (a northern language used as the common language by most in modern China).