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Chris Rader | Art exhibits highlight museum’s local flavor

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Peggy Strong’s 1939 mural, “The Saga of Wenatchee.” (Provided photo)

Visitors to the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center have probably admired “The Saga of Wenatchee,” a large mural on the south wall of the lobby. The mural was painted in 1939 by the young Tacoma artist Peggy Strong, who had won $2,600 in prize money from the U.S. Treasury Department in a competition for murals in public buildings.

Her mural was one of 5,000 pieces commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Agency to create jobs for artists. At the time, the building at 127 South Mission Street housed the Wenatchee post office. Accordingly, Strong chose rural postal service for her mural’s theme — depicting the Pony Express, a farm couple standing at their mail box, and a boy helping a deliveryman unload a large package from a pickup truck. She also incorporated Wenatchee’s apple orchard heritage into her design.

Confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident, Strong used a specially constructed swing to paint the mural on canvas at her studio. She had to work around a doorway and two bulletin boards with her design. After finishing the studio work, she had help affixing the canvas to the post office wall. Today, more than 70 years later, the mural’s vivid colors and slightly elongated figures (suggesting the work of her mentor, Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton) still draw the eye upward and please the viewer.

Contemporary two- and three-dimensional art works are featured in February on both floors of the museum, as the museum hosts two concurrent shows. The first, in partnership with the City of Wenatchee Arts Commission, is a juried show that opened Jan. 25 in the Main Gallery. Regional artists from Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Quincy and the Methow Valley had the option of entering that show or a non-juried show displayed in the upstairs Gold Gallery — or both.

“We’re really pleased about the response from the artists and the amount of work that was submitted for the two shows,” said Brenda Abney, museum director and staff to the arts commission. “People will recognize many of the local artists, but also might be surprised to see some whose work appears in the non-juried show!” Up to $1,000 will be awarded to artists accepted to the juried show.

Both shows are open through Feb. 15. A reception for the non-juried show will be held during the Wenatchee First Friday art walk on Feb. 7. Museum admission is free all that day and refreshments will be served from 5 to 8 p.m. Most of the art works are available for sale — oh, except Peggy Strong’s mural.

Chris Rader, former KOHO news director and Wenatchee Valley Museum public relations coordinator, is a freelance writer who contracts with the museum for research, writing and editing. She may be reached at crader@nwi.net.

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