After 20 years, MLT Native American mural continues to reflect legacy of culture, heritage and pride

Andrew Morrison painted the mural on his family home while he was a student at Mountlake Terrace High School. (Photos courtesy andrewmorrison.org)

The Native American mural painted on the side of a garage on the corner of 236th Street Southwest and 58th Avenue West is a long-time community landmark.

Its artist, Andrew Morrison, grew up in Mountlake Terrace and graduated from Mountlake Terrace High School in 1999. He painted the mural for his senior project after a teacher had asked him to focus on a community service project. Morrison decided to paint the mural on his parents’ house as a way to inject some art into the area that residents and those visiting the area would easily be able view. “I said I’m going to serve my community by painting a picture in the community for people to see,” he recalled.

Morrison, whose family has both Haida and Apache tribal roots, said in designing the mural he wanted to only use black and white paint. It’s a practice that he continues in much of his artwork because he likes its simplicity, which he feels can really drive home a piece’s impact. “The Native American imagery is the theme because that’s the original people here in America, so I wanted to stay true to that,” he said.

He used historical photos found through research and “selected those images from different tribes across the country and painted them on the wall to be respectful,” he said, and as a way of honoring the people and their cultures. Morrison said the mural depicts a Blackfeet spiritual leader, an Inuit spiritual healer, a San Carlos Apache person and a Yakima tribal liaison, and there are also Coast Salish people and representations within the design.

“I was still just a teenager and I kind of knew what I was doing but I think I was more so following my heart and just being true to what I thought in that moment,” Morrison said, “and here we are 20 years later, and the mural is still standing the test of time.”

Morrison has touched up and refreshed the paint and wood once since then, in 2014. “For the most part it’s really kind of stood the test of time,” he said. Morrison even employed an MTHS student who needed to complete his own senior project to help with the restoration work. “I try to give back when I can,” he said.

Members of the family reported there have been hundreds of visitors and calls to the house since the mural went up, and the feedback they’ve received has been entirely positive. “They’re always asking if they can have permission to take pictures and that’s no problem,” said Andrew’s father, Gary Morrison.

Andrew Morrison

Andrew Morrison said his family, friends and others in the area have “grown to see it as a form of identity and a landmark and a source of energy,” to be “something very intriguing and positive.” He said many people“have gone to great lengths to make a personal connection to the mural and also protecting it. Your random person down the street has grown an identity to it and then, with that said, will look out for it or make sure that it’s protected and seen in a good way.”

Gary Morrison, who has owned the house since 1978, said that community link began even when the mural was in its beginning stages. As Andrew first began drawing the mural on the garage, people were continually stopping by to see its progression throughout the ensuing weeks until it was finished. “It’s kind of a landmark here in Mountlake Terrace,” the elder Morrison said.

And that is how Andrew intended it to be. “It’s not just some little thing I did and put in my closet that only I can see once a year,” he said. “I did it very visible so that the surrounding neighborhood and community can take ownership of it and that’s what people have done. And that’s one big reason why I believe in public art and I still practice public art.”

Gary Morrison said he’s proud to have the mural on his home because it can serve as an acknowledgment to Native Americans from multiple cultures who are living in the area. He was also particularly touched that the painting included ties to the family’s tribal roots in Alaska and Arizona.

Andrew Morrison said it was important personally that he show a variety of Native American cultures “because I believe in unity and bringing people together.” He said the main theme he wants the mural to convey to passersby is a sense of visibility: “The Native American imagery, for what it is to the viewer, it’s seen. I did it to spread some love in the community and start the conversation you know, something healthy,” he said.

The mural was Morrison’s first work on such a grand scale. Since then, he’s painted many more large murals including ones at two different Mountlake Terrace schools, several around the Seattle area and in various other locations nationally. He even added more paintings on the exterior of the house and garage where he grew up including some Seahawks-themed artwork as a way of commemorating their 2014 Super Bowl win.

Morrison said being involved with artistic efforts in local communities, including Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds and north Seattle, “has always been a big part of my art career, to this day.” He reported that even though he has moved to California, he still returns to the area several times each year for exhibitions and other creative endeavors.

The artist said he would still like to paint the roof on his childhood home, but that may involve further convincing his father. “If I had my way, I’d paint the whole house and (also) that whole 236th Street gosh darn it,” Morrison said. “I’m kind of on that level.” If given permission, Morrison added, he would also “paint the transit center — and believe me, I’ve asked people.”

He sees his art as a way to push envelopes on both a personal and larger community level. “All I need is a surface to paint and then once I kind of get the surface and location that really speaks to me then I kind of start coming up with some imagery, some colors,” he said. “My biggest challenge in my art career is finding space to paint.”

Gary Morrison said that with all of the recent development in Mountlake Terrace, real estate agents and construction companies have begun inquiring about purchasing the property. “I think within the next couple years they’ll want to buy us out here,” he lamented. “This corner has kind of been a landmark with those murals.” He isn’t sure what would then happen to the artwork, although he added that “it would be nice if they were to want to relocate that in some other location here in Mountlake Terrace” — potentially to be preserved so people could still enjoy it.

Andrew Morrison said he’s currently been staying so busy with painting and other creative projects that it can feel overwhelming at times, but he’s not complaining. “Life is so good, the universe has been so good to me, I can’t say enough about abundance and being fruitful, so I’m a happy guy,” he said.

More of Andrew Morrison’s murals and artwork can be viewed here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

  1. I live a couple blocks away and see you in your unusual car and your work quite frequently.
    Love your work! Especially native art. I am native and it’s part of our heritage the portrayal of the people.

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