Mixing Fantasy & Reality

Andy Eccleshall created the mural that decorates the south-facing wall of the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket. Brent Baker / staff photo

TONASKET – It wasn’t the doorway to Narnia that appeared on the north side of the Community Cultural Center in Tonasket over the weekend.

The latest blend of fantasy and reality that has transformed the CCC into the city’s most eye-catching building is yet another mural by Edmonds artist Andy Eccleshall, who made his second visit in two years to Tonasket over the weekend.

Though on a smaller scale than the full-wall murals on the south and east sides of the building, the newest addition brings to mind various doorways into realms of fantasy. What can be seen through the “opening,” however, is quite real, just like the variety of Okanogan Highlands locations depicted on other parts of the building.

Corkscrew Mountain, a geologic oddity midway between Curlew and Chesaw, highlights the view through this window into another part of the area, an archway that apparently opens into the side of the building, surrounded by vines that add just a bit more mystery to the scene.

Eccleshall, an artist since he was a 16-year-old growing up in Stafford, England and a muralist for about 18 years, was commissioned to do the original mural thanks to David Kliegman and the Okanogan Highlands Alliance.

“They put a call out for artists in their newsletter,” Eccleshall said. “I happened to be in Chelan a week or two later, so I phoned him up and came up and took a look.

“Once we started walking around it, the ideas started flowing. He had a good idea of what he wanted to represent.”

Eccleshall’s process starts with a camera: photographing the entirety of the area to be painted (in this case, the whole CCC building).

“I work into the photograph,” he said. “That way I can see exactly how it’s going to look.

“The design ideas went back and forth. David had specific places he wanted to portray, all of them from the Okanogan Highlands that people who’d been there would recognize. They’re not all one place, but different places … (with the larger mural) we sort of melded them together with the seasons as they go around the building.”

Once the design and planning were complete, Eccleshall set loose with his paints on his giant canvas.

“When it comes to painting it, once I have the design I can see where the horizon needs to go, where the mountain needs to be,” he said. “There’s not a lot of drawing that happens. You step back every once in awhile to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.

“The painting is just pure fun. It’s a just a big canvas, and you just paint it.”

Eccleshall started as a teen working on architectural and historical reconstruction illustrations.

“That went pretty well,” he said. “At 16, anyone who throws 25 (English) pounds at you, you feel like Rockefeller.”

He started dabbling in landscapes before attending university at the Exeter Faculty of Arts and Design, where he studied illustration. After working as an illustrator for a couple of years, his portfolio earned him an invitation to come to the United States to work as an assistant to a mural painter.

“I just sort of fell into it,” Eccleshall said. “It’s funny how nature kind of forces you into it sometimes. There never really was any decision made; it just sort of happened.”

He said it took awhile to adjust to painting murals after having worked almost exclusively on small-scale illustrations.

“It was odd going from something so tiny to something so immense,” Eccleshall said. “It took a year or so for my muscles to adjust to it. In terms of canvas, trying to figure out the scale was a bit of a conundrum. But after awhile it just becomes second nature and starts to make sense.”

After six years in the country, he moved to the Seattle area in 2000 and to Edmonds in 2002, where he currently shows in an art studio.

“Fine art and murals have been pretty much it for me since I was 16,” he said. “Most of my (mural) work has been interior residential, such as bathrooms and ceilings. This one has been just a huge treat and is by far the largest I’ve done.”

Eccleshall was frequently interrupted while doing his work by passers-by who stopped to chat and admire his ongoing work on the CCC, but the amiable artist didn’t seem to mind.

“Everyone has been so friendly here,” he said. “It has been a pleasure. It really has. It’s obviously a lot different climate than what I’m used to, but in terms of friendliness it reminds me of Edmonds. You can’t go into a coffee shop there without running into someone.

“When I met David and Hanna Kliegman it was the first time I’d been to Tonasket. But any chance I get to do more work here, I’d be delighted.”

In addition to the sides of the CCC building, other Andy Eccleshall works can be seen online at www.andyeccleshall.com and www.muralworks.com.