This week I had the pleasure of meeting Bellingham’s most prolific street artist, known by many names, including ‘Ruckas,’ ‘PKLZ’ and his given name, Shawn Cass. This Bellingham-based graffiti artist turned muralist has produced legal and commissioned street art pieces on Bellingham alleys, storefronts and urban areas that would otherwise be an eyesore.
The best part is, his work can be easily appreciated on a walking, bicycle or driving tour with the information below.
Cass’ work to beautify our community has made headlines. His first and perhaps most extensive outdoor piece, known widely as Bird Alley (#birdalley), was partially supported by a successful GoFundMe campaign. Cass grew up around animals and loved painting birds.
The piece was encouraged by adjacent businesses to improve the alley that lies parallel and between Railroad Avenue and State Street behind Hohl Feed and Seed. The nearby dry cleaner, Vienna Cleaners, loaned him an extension ladder for several months. Employees of D’Anna’s Italian Restaurant shared their ideas and support during their breaks.
The piece includes a wide variety of native and exotic birds and has gradually grown over the past two years. He plans to add additional work in the coming months. His art is complemented by live pigeons and a peregrine falcon that live in and use the area. Many visitors have posted selfies in front of the work and used the hashtag #birdalley.
Cass also loves collaborating with other artists. If you look closely in Bird Alley, you might see a few birds in differing styles that were created by artists that passed by while Cass was working. That includes well-known Seattle muralist Henry (Ryan Henry Ward).
Take a Tour
Most of Cass’ work is clustered in the downtown area so you can easily walk, bike, or drive by the locations. There are many others that are on private property that didn’t make this list. Once you’ve seen a few, you’ll begin to notice his work in many other places.
Cass’ work is spread throughout Bellingham, here is a list of where you can find them.
Located behind Hohl Feed and Seed, 1322 Railroad Avenue
Schweinhaus Biergarten Fence
Located at 1330 N. State Street, the murals can be found on Magnolia Street and the alley behind Schweinhaus
Cap Hansen’s Tavern Alley
Located in the alley near 209 E. Chestnut
This piece was commisioned by the building owner of Cap Hansen’s/owner of the Hamlet Hotel to brighten up the alley.
Wall near the Alamo Apartments
Located near 421 E. Maple Street
Bellingham Community Mural near Morse Square Condominiums
Located at 1015 Railroad Avenue
- Zoom Zoom Coffee 845 Lincoln Street
- The Pot Shop Bellingham 2119 Lincoln Street
- Sugar on Magnolia at 111 E. Magnolia Street
- Behind Fiamma Burger 1309 Railroad Avenue
- Inside Casa Que Pasa 1415 Railroad Avenue
- Alley behind Cafe Akroteri 1219 Cornwall Avenue
- Inside Gathering Glass Designs 114 E. Magnolia Street
- The Racket Bar and Pinball Lounge 1220 N. State Street
- McKay’s Tap House 1118 E. Maple Street
- Inside Pizza Time 505 32nd St #106
- Sehome Hill Arboretum Reservoir tank and tunnels
- Hops N Headz 3207 Northwest Avenue
I stopped by to see Cass in action on a garage door of a private residence off Lakeway Drive. He is adding realistic ferns and rocks using a stencil technique that will blend the door into the owners more natural surroundings.
Cass describes his overall style as ‘new school’ urban graffiti with exaggerated features in a cartoon style. He says his work is inspired by Dr. Seuss, M.C. Escher, and classical artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. He notes that his style is constantly evolving as he experiments with new techniques. Although he uses spray paint to do his art in the graffiti style, he considers his work more drawing than painting. You’ll see his signature ‘spray paint can angels’ or ‘screwworm angels’ in the corners of many of his pieces.
Cass started tagging in his own unique style as Ruckas when he was 16 in Arkansas. At 19, Cass moved to Bellingham on a whim with friends who were originally headed for Seattle. He began taking classes at Whatcom Community College and tried a year in California’s Bay Area before returning to the area. Around the age of 20, Cass was arrested while tagging under the bridge behind Jalapenos Mexican Restaurant. After that, Cass switched to canvas work which led a Fairhaven consignment shop owner to propose a trade: artwork for clothing. That’s when Cass became legit, leaving illegal graffiti behind to become Bellingham’s most prolific public muralist. By 2005 Cass got his first big job, a commissioned mural at Whatcom Community College.
He later transferred to Western Washington University, taking courses in the Environmental Science program and studying terrestrial ecology and sustainable design. Cass also works as a DJ in the area under the names Mr. Pickles, Picklz and PKLZ. You can hear his work on Soundcloud.
By 2016, Cass was inspired by Sustainable Connections KAPOW! Placemaking competition, an annual challenge to enliven an underused and underappreciated section of Bellingham. He didn’t win, but it did inspire him to contact local business owners and begin his public art in earnest.
Community Benefits of Public Murals and Street Art
The City of Bellingham and local businesses report less vandalism and less illegal graffiti in areas with public art. Some say it is out of respect for the artists’ hard work. Cass also notes that people feel safer walking in an alley full of birds or his other colorful cartoon-style art. The zones feel pedestrian-friendly and the local businesses welcome tourists and locals alike. Perhaps the hidden value of street art also includes the fact that creatives have a productive outlet for their energies, keeping them out of other trouble.
More Street Art Ahead
Cass generally works on two or three pieces simultaneously. In addition to the garage door above, Cass is working on a new storefront and will continue to add new birds to Bird Alley. He admits his art has changed over the years while constantly pushing himself to try new techniques and approaches, incorporating new elements and experimenting with stencils and prints.
Whatcom County has a number of other talented public muralists as well. Cass recommended the work of fellow Bellingham artist, Matt French, whose work also appears in both indoor and outdoor locations in the area. While you’re touring the work of Ruckas, you can also check out more mural art in Bellingham and Whatcom County on this self-guided tour written by my friend Marla Bronstein.
Whether you come for a day, a weekend, or a month, Bellingham and Whatcom County offer a variety of visual arts to appreciate including this edgy pop-culture-inspired street art form. If you’re inspired to commission your own piece, Cass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook messenger.