Washek carries on SK tradition of mural artistry

He walked the streets of town, paint brush in hand.

Times were tough. Men everywhere were out of work. It wasn’t uncommon for people to hop trains and ride for miles in search of welcoming places to ply their trade.

Trained as a muralist in Norway, Peder Storseth didn’t follow them.

Settling in Port Orchard in a little room on Bay Street above the old Port Orchard Independent, he didn’t wander any farther than the churches, restaurants, inns and pubs of Kitsap County to offer his skills.

Accepted by many, he painted marine and mountain scenes that reminded him of home. It was said that he brought the beauty of the outdoors inside, painting what he knew and loved.

“Storseths,” as his paintings came to be called, graced dozens of shops throughout Port Orchard and Bremerton.

He painted the wood grain on the huge safe in Moondogs Too. A few doors down, he painted a full-length dock scene across the west wall of the Fred Needham VFW Club.

There he replicated a photo taken of the Gig Harbor marina, capturing boats that plied the waters around the Sound.

Up the hill on Cline Street, he gave the original First Lutheran Church of Port Orchard a floor-to-ceiling mural of Jesus walking on water and holding his namesake, Peter, by the hand.

While this mural was painted over by subsequent owners, before the building became the Purple Fig, church leaders captured the image on a commemorative plate.

The sale of these plates helped fund the building of the new church on Mitchell Avenue.

These facts I glean from resident historian and community treasure, Bryan Petro, a walking encyclopedia of Port Orchard history and a Storseth collector.

Petro admires the genius in Storseth’s work. He was a member of Port Orchard’s centennial celebration committee that commissioned the murals that were painted onto the library and Sidney Gallery buildings.

The goal at the time of the celebration, he tells me, was to have a new mural painted on a different building every year.

“The dream was for Port Orchard to be known for its beautiful murals,” Petro said, “along with its artistic genius.”

Like Petro, SKHS classmate Rich Washek is drawn to these murals, their rich history and the stories of the people who painted them.

“How,” he asks, “does the painting of the murals weave through the history of the city? How have the murals touched the lives of Port Orchard and its people?”

His hope is to capture this history and these murals in a book that chronicles Port Orchard, while he works to restore some of the existing paintings, like the whales on Myhre’s Restaurant.

The secret, he tells me, is that the cement must be sealed, otherwise the paint peels off.

There is no substitute for good prep work.

There is also no substitute for a good artist, and while Washek, like Storseth, would never say so himself, he is a genius with a paintbrush.

Delilah Rene discovered this genius when she endeavored this summer to paint new murals on the bare walls of the buildings in what is now known as Mermaid Cove.

“He was a gift from God,” Delilah said. “The answer to a prayer. He wandered in, looked around and said, ‘Can I help?’ Within minutes, the Lost City of Atlantis emerged from the walls. He is amazing.”

Originally trained in music with a degree from Western Washington University, Washek muses that life has its mysteries. As a musician, he was relegated to playing in piano bars, but as an artist, all the world is his stage.

After trying his hand working on fishing boats in California and a ranch in Montana, Washek set about painting it.

Returning to Port Orchard in the 1980s to tend to his ailing father, he picked up a two-year degree in commercial art.

The classes helped him clarify and simplify techniques. With these added skills, the work flowed.

Washek painted scenes for 10 to 12 different local theater companies and sets for the Seattle Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

He worked for Super Scenics, a Bellevue company that creates the backdrops for community theater productions and plays across the country, including exhibitions at parks and zoos.

Washek remembers a huge backdrop he helped create for the Milwaukee Zoo. He loved that job and others with the company, until he determined that the commute was too time consuming and intense and sought work closer to home.

For six years he painted murals for high-end homes in Gig Harbor and Seattle and for commercial accounts, including Ace Hardware stores and Subway shops.

He learned set design along the way, as well as the intricacies of producing sets that can be assembled and dismantled with ease.

Like Storseth, who died of malnutrition in 1965, Washek knows that his work involves periods of both “feast and famine.”

Right now, life is a feast.

He’s busy “flying the set” for the Opera’s latest show “The Daughter of the Regiment” which will be offered this weekend, Nov. 13 and 15 at the Admiral Theatre.

The set he designed includes a forest scene with interlocking tree branches, a feat to achieve and a sight to see.

Call 373-6743 for tickets. Or call Rich Washek at (360) 801-4871, if you have information on the murals downtown, or if you love good art and wish to support its genius.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.