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The Majestic Mural of the Santiam River

Have you been to eNRG’s Whitewater Center in the Santiam Canyon lately?  If not, there’s been a lot going on down there worthy of checking out! We’ve been remodeling our shop with a new bathroom, check-in area and shower room.  But possibly the coolest and most visible project we’ve undertaken is up the road 3 miles in Gates, at our eNRG housing site and new home to beautiful murals by world-wide muralist Molly Keen.  She’s been an inspiration to everyone whose met her here in the Santiam Canyon where we hope she’ll paint some additional art for us and the community, in the future. In the meantime, we caught up with Molly for an interview:

Question:  When did you first start painting murals and what was your original inspiration?

A: My mother has been the largest inspiration for me. Not only was she an Artist, but she taught me how to see the world with a playful eye.  In 2007, when I was 18, she passed away and I took her maiden name, Keen as my Artist name. I became more serious about my work when I traveled to Colombia and a hostel owner asked if I wanted to paint a mural for her, over 100 feet at that! I loved the experience and created 15 more murals throughout Latin America and officially started calling myself a muralist.

Question:  What’s your process when someone commissions you to paint a mural?

A: The entire process has evolved over the years and has many different elements that go into it.
The first thing I do is agree on a budget. The second is to talk about a concept and design they have in mind and how my work inspires that vision. I want to make sure that I am creating something that I am excited about, as well as the client. It is vital that both of us have the same enthusiasm and vision. Lastly, I create a design on paper then digitally on the actual wall so we can see the colors and know exactly how much paint to order. Sometimes people need to see more than a sketch, they want color and to see it actually on the wall to really understand the concept. The next step is buying supplies and then starting to paint. The whole process can take anywhere from 1 week to 1 month.

Question:  I understand you’ve painted murals all over the world.  Where and how did these come to fruition?

A: I always knew I wanted to travel to South America, and more particularly Colombia because I had never traveled alone outside of the country before. I heard incredible things about the Amazon, the people of Colombia, and I wanted to learn Spanish. I would paint for trade at first for a room to stay, a tour of the area, food, and materials. It was an unplanned and wonderful way to travel. Some of the mural I created was inspired by those experiences through colors, movement, and local artwork such as weaving and detailed sewing patterns. I drew inspiration from the local community, the people that would sit and watch me paint and make me food and play music. I winged a lot of it and without too much planning. I was able to develop my skills immensely while traveling and making murals and this has changed the process of how I create a mural from start to finish.

Question:  What’s your jam now? Being a muralist…is it your primary source of income or something you do on the side?

A: Being a muralist is one of my primary incomes!  However, a lot of jobs are my primary income. I like to mix it up and add some variety so that I do not get burnt out on just one thing. I have worked at many different Restaurants and Bars, as a Activities Coordinator to people with Art and dementia, as a pedal-powered smoothie bicycle coach for an Oakland Rock the Bike company, a couple summers as a Marine Biologist Instructor on Catalina Island, a sailor, and Cook in two different boats in Patagonia, and a leasing consultant for different companies.  Currently, I am a tricycle operator on a Rickshaw or Pedicab on the Embarcadero of San Francisco hauling tourists around. Additionally, I sell my work on canvas as well as murals. I want life to be exciting where I get to experience and learn new things all the time. It encourages new interactions with people and increases my creativity!

Question:  What is your next vision?  What’s the future look like to you?

A: I see spending more time in Nature on my horizon. Being in Gates and Mill City, Oregon definitely sparked my interest to stay out of the city and into the magic of the woods. I do not have any exact plans at the moment, but my dreams most definitely include a Mural Bicycle Tour in a different country. Right now, I am looking at Brazil potentially with other women. I want to create murals with a local woman and do more community-centered participation within my mural-making process. Additionally, I have some murals brewing in Portland and Seattle for this Spring so stay tuned!

The instigator behind this mural project was Sam Drevo, Director and co-owner of eNRG.  In addition to being a world champion whitewater kayaker and expert paddle instructor in multiple disciplines, Sam is a professional photographer and film producer.  When asked what motivated him to commission a muralist he answered “I love public art. I’ve been involved with a bunch of art projects for years”. Sam has worked with Oregon non-profit We Love Clean Rivers (WLCR) for over 15 years.  For their 10-year anniversary WLCR got a $12k grant to place a sculpture in a park associated with their efforts. Additionally, they’ve consistently advocated for, and supported the “Ripple Art Show”. This is a show that utilizes the junk and debris from the clean ups by recycling the “river garbage” into art pieces.  For Sam, both eNRG and WLCR has inspired him to embrace art. Therefore, when the mayor insisted that eNRG’s storage container be painted he naturally chose to paint it with a mural. Molly, the muralist, strategically painted using “the magic hour” and the “horizon line” (the point of no return in whitewater kayaking) as inspiration.  

David Childers, manager at our whitewater location watched the process from start to finish.  He explained he loved watching the process as it got painted and was simply proud to look at it.  He tells us that community members really like it—the feedback has all been positive. David feels it’s unique to the area and hopes it can serve as inspiration to create more art in the Sanitam Canyon.

It’s a beautiful piece of art.  Check it out yourself, and be sure to stop in and say hello to our eNRG staff in Mill City while there.