In December of 2017, Tom Goedde of Mt. Baker, Stephanie Tschida and Lawrence Pitre, Director of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce presented the idea of creating a giant mural on the retaining wall at the corner of 31st Ave. and Jackson St.
Lawrence Pitre described his inspiration for the project:
“I return daily to a retaining wall which I have walked by my whole life, located on 31st and Jackson. My vision has always been to develop a concept that would be interactive and celebrate the rich history of the community. During my lifetime, I have watched my community within the Central Area become altered because of Gentrification and economic displacement. I conceived the interactive mural as part of the concept series called “We Are One,” which became my thesis at Seattle University. The thesis reviewed how art influences communities, specifically the Central Area in Seattle.
This mural is deeply personal because I was born and raised in the Central Area. It aims to “reconnect the past with the future” because my community is being erased daily. Throughout my life in the Central Area, I used art as a tool of emancipation, freedom of expression and social activism. As urban art becomes more mainstream, I believe that creating promotional campaigns and designs allow other artists and myself to showcase our distinctive artistic styles.
The objectives of the mural project are to (1) advertise the welcoming nature of the Leschi area, (2) inform visitors about Leschi’s historic legacies, featuring the legend of Chief Leschi in 1858, Leschi Park that was developed into an amusement park in 1889, the Lake Washington Cable Railway’s trolley line in 1903, and the history of Frink Park in 1906, and (3) use public art to visually enhance the retaining wall to be compatible with its surroundings and the park.”
Lawrence explained how Seattle University and Jacob Lawrence impacted his artistic trajectory:
“I took several communication courses during my years at Seattle University Master’s in Arts Leadership program. The communication courses played an integral role in my ability to tell the story of the Central Area’s history and legacy in a dynamic way. They encouraged and insisted that I be engaged in my community and use my voice to share what I have seen, experienced and hope for. I learned to become an advocate for my community.
As an African American male art major during the late ‘80’s at the University of Washington, it was lonely and discouraging. In fact, there were only two black males in the School of Art in my four years of study. As a direct result of being one of the only two, my unique style did not resonate with professors or the white student body. This negative critique of my art abilities persisted throughout my studies. That is until I took a class under Jacob Lawrence. Jacob’s approach was much different, because he continued to encourage me even when the white students thought my work was not traditional. Throughout my year with Professor Lawrence, I felt my abilities sharpen and expand in volume and in distinct style. Through my last quarter with Professor Lawrence, he continued to share techniques with me and continued to say ‘keep exploring’ don’t be afraid to stand up for your creativity, and promise me that you will never stop drawing, painting and creating no matter what other people tell you.”
Lawrence’s inspiration comes from his life:
“As I mentioned, I began working on the ‘We Are One’ series as part my thesis project. As a longtime resident born and raised in the Central Area, I’ve watched the African American community being erased visually, emotionally, and historically because of gentrification and urban renewal. I have always been taught by family, friends and neighbors that history and legacy is something that should honored and preserved. Based on this value, it was paramount that I capture the history of the Central Area starting with the indigenous people and continuing with the current changes and removal of our history.”
As noted on his website: https://www.lcpitre.com/artist-bio
“Personally, Lawrence sees his artistic endeavors as self-expressions depicting life experiences, which includes struggles, joy, and his love of life. Lawrence seeks to understand the process of creativity in the way a theoretical physicist seeks to understand the universe. His selection process is a spiritual layering which, when you step back seems to float within the universe we live in. He calls this process natural “intelligence”. It is a key aspect of Pitre’s philosophy as he explores different art forms, styles and unique works of art.”
~Interviewed and compiled by Esther Ervin
Editor’s note: We have not been able to reschedule a meeting with Mr. Pitre.