Walking around Bellingham, you’ll notice lots of color on the sides of buildings and in alleyways. In large part, these murals and street art are thanks to Bellingham artist, Gretchen Leggitt. Over the past several years, Gretchen has worked on pieces strewn about town. From Boundary Bay’s Cedar Dust Alley to the largest mural in Washington State located on Puget Sound Energy’s Encogen Facility that spans the length of two football fields, Leggitt is leaving her mark on the city of renewed excitement.
We sat down with Gretchen to learn more about her work as a visual artist and how she makes Bellingham her basecamp for adventures of all sizes. So where did it all begin? Turns out, Gretchen was raised in a world surrounded by art.
With both parents being artists, coupled with having an inspiring art mentor at a young age, Gretchen knew long ago that art would be a big part of her life. Just how big? Think biggest mural in Washington State big.
“Both of my parents are visual artists, so they had my brother and I making as soon as we could pick up a pencil, and that has resulted in all four of us having careers in fine arts.”
When you look at Gretchen’s art, you’ll notice a theme that sticks out. Her work is constantly inspired by the mountains and waterways that exist right out her front door and the community that she has found here in Bellingham. From the Chuckanuts to Mt. Baker and deep into the North Cascades, Gretchen has made Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest her own mountain playground and muse for her work.
Gretchen first arrived in Bellingham about 15 years ago. She came for many of the same reasons a lot of people do – snowboarding at Mount Baker, mountain biking at Galbraith, sea kayaking along beautiful shorelines, just to name a few. About eight years ago, a good friend and fellow artist, Jodie Adams Morris introduced Gretchen to the Alley Arts District, where she started getting to work. At the Alley Arts District, there was a welder, a photographer, a woodworker, as well as The Hub, a community bike shop.
“We just sat out there for a summer making art on the bike path right in the Alley Arts District. It was there that I developed a huge crush on Bellingham – people would stop by and check out our art makings and I really fell for the vibe up here. It’s such a good energy. I felt like everyone here is so warm and open. People describe this ‘northwest freeze’ in people, but that’s just non-existent in Bellingham.”
Gretchen seems to have fallen for Bellingham, but Bellingham has also fallen for her. As you visit the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, be sure to take your time. Look around in the alleys and sides of buildings and restaurants. You will surely find Gretchen’s signature murals filled with color, life, and mountains. If you’re downtown grabbing lunch at the Culture Café, climbing at Vital, walking down Holly Street, or biking past the pole in the Fountain District, keep your eyes peeled for splashes of color and epic landscapes, you might just find your favorite.
Q and A with Artist, Gretchen Leggitt
Tell us about your community here in Bellingham.
GL: “I couldn’t be more proud of my community here in Bellingham. My friends all build, my friends all make, whether they’re musicians, whether they’re artists, whether they’re woodworkers, and everyone is just so stinkin’ inspired by the scenery around here. They are humble, mega athletes. I just went to a wedding last weekend and 45 of us all went on a group bike ride, including a six and an eight year old. I couldn’t believe how incredibly everyone rode. That just stands true for the community as a whole. I feel like the community here really supports one another in creative endeavors. My community here is really tight knit.”
What made you want to move to Bellingham?
GL: “I had been living in big cities for years and I wanted to downsize. I wanted to have closer access to the places where I recreate and Bellingham was just the epicenter for that. When I came up here visiting friends, I discovered world-class mountain biking right in my backyard. Mt. Baker was just a stones toss away, and we have the most incredible backpacking in just a one-hour drive. I was completely enamored also going sea kayaking. Living in Bellingham I can hitch up a sea kayak to my bike and bring them right to the docks from our doorstep on two wheels. If I can call that home, I am satisfied.”
What kind of murals and street art have you done around Bellingham?
GL: “When I moved to Bellingham, it was a pretty clean slate. There wasn’t a lot of street art going on. I was approached by some phenomenal business owners around town and they provided me with opportunities in art making. Vital Climbing Gym – I’ve been doing chalkboard art on their café wall for the past five years. Chris from Kombucha Town offered me a mural job inside and outside of his Culture Café in the Herald Building. I also put up a gigantic sundial mural on the outside of Ciao Thyme. And then I would say the big kahuna was working with Puget Sound Energy to put up the largest mural in the state of Washington down on Cornwall. It’s a massive rendition of the North Cascades mountain range, the length of two football fields by 60 feet tall.”
What draws you to making murals?
GL: “It wasn’t until putting up murals that I really discovered there is an incredible purpose for art – and that is to create positive impact. When I started making murals, people started to trickle up to me, telling me how much this is changing their day. People who walk by the murals on their daily commute or people who work in the location, have been giving me feedback – it completely tranforms their outlook on this place. I would say some of the most incredible interactions are with the people who live on the streets, because it’s their home. I think there is a sense of pride within the community that has developed from having amazing public art on the streets. There’s a sense of identity that potentially didn’t exist in Bellingham on those certain streets. I think the murals have added to a new sense of creative culture that Bellingham has. They’ve given us a little bit more creative flair that didn’t exist before.”
What fuels your creativity?
GL: “I love recreating in nature. It’s what I seek out to do in any of my free time. I think that there’s just this divine beauty in the natural world and I’m drawn to re-creating that through my artwork. I think that topography is incredibly interesting. I’m a rock climber. I study the facets, the geometry of rock with my eyes and my hands. And I think that it’s really intriguing to try to re-create that in my illustrations. Fluidity – if you’re a mountain biker, skier, or snowboarder, you know what the flow state is. There’s just this movement that we all seek, this beautiful, graceful movement. And I really try to capture those lines through my work. So a lot of my work really tries to not only include nature, but it also the energy that we have moving through space.”
What is your ideal day in Bellingham?
GL: “My perfect day in Bellingham I think starts out with riding my bike down Chuckanut Drive. People are terrified of it, but I have always felt safe and cars are really aware. Riding down to Tweets and Mariposa in Bow-Edison, they are divine. Then riding back up, stopping at Clayton beach, bouldering a little or playing in the ocean. Then coming home and working in my garden. This is an amazing climate to plant and grow things year-round. Then, just being at home. I really love my community here. I love my neighbors. I think just being around town is so wonderful. So that’s a perfect day. Maybe in the evening, I’d mountain bike on Galbraith and watch a gorgeous sunset. Every day seems perfect here.”
What are some of your favorite places to eat in Bellingham?
GL: “Breakfast – Mount Bakery crepes. Lunch – Poke in Fairhaven is perfect for a picnic down at Boulevard Park. Dinner – The Culture Café is pretty great, they have amazing salads and sandwiches and delicious homemade kombucha. Aslan (Brewing) has some of the best vegetarian burgers in town.”
Favorite places to grab a beverage in Bellingham?
GL: “I love the Millie Sour at Wander Brewing, Kulshan is my neighbor and they make such good IPA, and Aslan (Brewing) because that Batch 15 just does wonders for me – but I love all of our breweries. For cocktails, I love the Temple Bar and Red Light. I like the co-op bakery for coffee and they have amazing light. That’s a great place to bring a sketchpad, have meetings, and sip on some good coffee. I also really like Camber, I think the have a really good French press. In Fairhaven, Shirlee Bird Café also has amazing pastries and coffee.”
What keeps you going, what makes you happy?
GL: “What makes me happy is finding a balance of community, recreation, and creation. I think that’s the golden trifecta. Finding time for my community, my friends and myself. I would absolutely wither away and die if I didn’t have the act of creating in my day to day life. And then finally recreating. I mean, that’s what makes us feel healthy and alive. That’s what gets our hearts pumping. I think finding time and balancing those three things is the ultimate source of happiness for me.”
See more arts and culture in Bellingham
- Plan Your Arts and Culture Getaway to Bellingham and Whatcom County
- Museums and Galleries in Bellingham and Whatcom County
- Theaters and Music in Bellingham and Whatcom County
- Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham: Historic Architecture Hosts current headliners
- Get Behind the Scenes with Whatcom Artists Studio Tour in October
- Bellingham Symphony Orchestra Provides Exceptional Classical Music in Bellingham