Connie Huston is at work on the Aqua Lions mural at the Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center in Cottage Grove. DANA MERRYDAY/THE CHRONICLE
COTTAGE GROVE – As the Cottage Grove community waits breathlessly for the Oct. 1 reopening of the newly refurbished Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center, located at 1440 S. 8th St. in Cottage Grove, there is some important work happening on the west side of the building. In all of its pride and prowess, the Cottage Grove High School swim team’s ”Aqua Lions” mural is getting a fresh look.
The mural, which has graced the swim center’s wall for over 30 years, was designed and painted by team members under the legendary swim coach, Bud Taylor.
Time has not been kind to the artwork. The colors had faded. The remodel left the mural appearing small and partially hidden behind a new bank of solar panels.
Local Cottage Grove Rotary Club Board Member Chandra La Husen noticed the plight of the Aqua Lions mural as she passed the construction site. La Husen, whose daughter swam under Taylor, naturally felt a sense of protectiveness for what the mural represented.
She contacted Garrett Bridgens, former information director for the South Lane School district and pool advocate, to see if there were plans to rehabilitate the mural.
La Husen, on learning there were none, started making some.
Time was fortuitous for the project as the annual district matching grants available through Rotary International were open for application. Each year, District 5110, which covers the southern two-thirds of Oregon and some of northern California, offers to match up to $2,000 for club projects. It is a chance for Rotary to fulfill part of its community service mission. La Husen brought the proposal up at the vetting committee and it was recommended to the board, which subsequently approved it.
With the promised funds, Chandra went artist shopping. The obvious choice was Connie Huston, whose murals shine down from Opal Park and 5 Flying Monkeys. Connie is a busy person, being a professional sign painter, muralist and set painter at The Shedd Institute, but she was willing to squeeze the project in.
There were a number of logistical obstacles to overcome. First was getting official permission from the school district, which was enthusiastically given.
Next was working around the hectic construction schedule, arranging lifts to get Huston up in the air and dealing with unlevel, gravel-strewn grades while trying to reach all areas of the mural wall. The sun was also a factor, as the west facing wall would get too hot to paint by 1:30 p.m.
”It wouldn’t have happened without South Lane and Daren and his construction crew,” La Husen said.
When I dropped by to see the progress, Connie Huston was just starting to chalk in some of the finishing details. She did most of the work freehand, using the square concrete block pattern as a grid.
”I tried to freshen it up and honor the original design as much as possible,” she said. ”I also had to move things and adjust the size as the space had become both seven feet shorter and eight feet higher.”
The project has become a bit of a collaboration between Huston and La Husen, who called it a dialectic process as they discuss and make decisions as they go and deal with things that pop up. Color selection, design modification and conceptual decisions were all decided through collaboration.
As you view the nearly finished mural, you may not know all the deliberations and decisions that went into it, but I think you will agree that the results are spectacular.
Huston reports that many pedestrians give a big thumbs up and one of the construction workers whose daughter swam with the Aqua Lions was very enthusiastic about the mural. It shows the deep sense of pride that the community has for its Lions and the mural will be a real community asset and reflection of that feeling.
With the long tradition of swimming in our community and the new possibilities available with the new pool we can look forward to great things for the swimming program and the Aqua Lions. Go Lions!
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Dana Merryday can be reached at 541-942-7037 and at [email protected]