Melissa Klein takes a break from her work in her studio located north of Sequim. Joining her is her dog Stormy. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Melissa Klein takes a break from her work in her studio located north of Sequim. Joining her is her dog Stormy. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

American Legion Post, Sequim artist collaborating on a mural

Patriotic colors, soldiers, war-themed machines featured

SEQUIM — Even some long-time Sequim residents don’t know there’s an active American Legion in town, notes Carl Bradshaw, the organization’s commander.

They don’t even notice the legion’s hall, the first structure people see — or rather, may see but don’t take notice of — when driving into town off U.S. Highway 101 via Sequim Avenue.

Come this spring, however, that building, at 107 E. Prairie St., will be hard to ignore.

The local military service advocacy group is teaming up with Sequim artist Melissa Klein to develop a large mural that will span half of the American Legion-Jack Grennan Post No. 62 building’s exterior, including the structure’s south and west sides.

The mural will include, on the south-facing side, bright red, white and blue with several figures of soldiers, war-themed symbols, symbols of American Legion activities and, soaring above it all, a bald eagle.

On the building’s west-facing side is landscape and seascape featuring the mechanisms of war — including an F-18 aircraft, U.S. Coast Guard cutter, a tank, helicopters and more — along with a representation of and detailed biography of Jack Grennan, for which the post is named.

“What we want,” Bradshaw said of the mural, “is to show what we’ve (the American Legion has) done.”

“It’s a great idea to draw community awareness to who we are,” he said, noting the legion’s 98-year history of serving veterans, active military and the community.

Along with numerous avenues of advocating for local veterans, the post is or has been home to several community groups, from Cub Scouts and women’s groups to Alcoholics Anonymous groups, churches, Daughters of the American Revolution groups and Toys for Tots. It’s also been used for wedding receptions and is a Red Cross shelter, legion members note.

“People aren’t aware we are an active post,” Bradshaw said.

Getting started

The collaboration dates back about a year, when American Legion adjutant Dan Abbott noted he’d like to see a mural, but, as Bradshaw noted, “we had no idea what to do.”

Fortunately, one legion member knew of a local artist who might fit the bill in Klein, who in recent years has taught commercial art at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center for Peninsula College and Port Townsend School of the Arts.

The Sequim-area artist said she had become interested in recent years in military/veterans issues, advocating for Afghans during the pullout of American troops in 2021.

“I got to know and make friends with people who served,” Klein said.

Bradshaw said that once his group made the connection, they started working with Klein to narrow down ideas for what would wind up on the mural.

“We wanted something in the mural for each branch of the service,” Bradshaw said.

“And women,” noted Nancy Zimmerman, former American Legion chaplain.

The mural started out as just a pastoral scene.

“We said, ‘Nah that doesn’t work’,” said Jeff McFarland, the local American Legion’s sergeant at arms.

“The American flag colors will really catch the eye of people heading into town.”

Klein got together with Bradshaw and Paul Renick, the legion’s financial officer, for more detail, and they agreed to add some of the implements of war.

“You cannot tell the history of war without the machines,” Klein said.

The Sequim artist brought her vision to the American Legion and it was refined a few times in a process Renick described as “iterative.”

“We didn’t want to pick it apart,” Zimmerman said, so they “added things and took some things away.”

For the human representations, Klein said she used some people she knew, including her grandfather, whom she noted served in World War II.

For Grennan’s figure, Klein said she created a mock-up using only a photo of his head, as there wasn’t a full-figured photo available.

“It is personal to me,” she said of the mural, “[though] I did not want to glorify war.

“I kind of went in blind. It was really a good team effort.”

The mural had an initial draft and two major revisions, but it is well on its way to being constructed. She said she hopes to be on site and working on the mural in the beginning of April.

Piece by piece

While the background for the mural will be painted and refined in the early spring as weather allows, Klein and company are at work on several pieces, thanks to some foresight, some elbow grease and further collaboration between the muralist and the American Legion.

Klein is working on several pieces at her studio north of Sequim proper, developing the bald eagle, the war vehicles and other various aspects of the mural using alupanels — composite pieces of aluminum that can be cut and shaped.

The aluminum pieces will then be bolted on to the side of the building after the mural’s background is completed, she explained. The added art will be given a coat of clear, anti-graffiti residue as well.

A group of American Legion members chipped in by carpooling with Klein to pick up the alupanel pieces in Bremerton. American Legion member Ed Hako opened his shop, where fellow legion members traced around the projected art, set the sheets of thick aluminum on saw horses, cut with jigsaw cutters and sandpapers to smooth out the edges.

“A lot of fine artists are using these [kinds of] materials,” Klein said of the alupanels.

Still, the project was daunting for Klein, who’s also been commissioned to complete a mural for Volunteer Hospice for Clallam County’s building in Port Angeles.

She said she gets advice and technical assistance from Jackson Smart, owner of the Port Angeles-based Jackson’s Sign Art Studio, as well as help with paint know-how from staff at Sherwin Williams.

“This made me level-up as an artist,” said Klein, whose clients include North Olympic Library System, Classic MoonFest/Moon-Fest, Sparket, Sweet Spot Frozen Yogurt, Peninsula Taproom, Inked Out Construction, Sequim Rotary Club, Dungeness Barn House, Nash’s Farm Store, American Legion and Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.

While there are several somber aspects the mural portrays — one scene includes an individual on a knee in a graveyard, with rows of grave-marking crosses in the background — Klein said the project also creates a bit of unity, too.

“I think it’s about building bridges,” she said.

No need to sell the American Legion members on it, she said: several of them chipped in their own funds so the American Legion’s coffers could be spent on other community projects.

“They believed in this project,” Klein said. “I felt moved to tears.”

Local legion meetings are held at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Post Hall.

For more about the American Legion Sequim, visit alpost62.com.

For more about Klein and her work, visit MelissaKlein.com.

________

Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other newspapers Peninsula News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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