Monroe celebrates Carnation smokestack paintjob

Some Monroe-area business owners and residents thought they would never see it happen, but somehow, Monroe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Una Wirkebau-Hartt managed to pull it off.
On Thursday, Oct. 16, a ribbon-cutting and christening celebration took place at the Carnation smokestack located in downtown Monroe, to celebrate its brand new paintjob. Attendees included Wirkebau-Hartt, Monroe Chamber of Commerce Operations Manager Shelley Nyhammer, Washington State Senator Kirk Pearson, Washington State District 39 Representative Elizabeth Scott, Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, property owner Fred Wolfstone and many others.
Design artist Esther McLatchy and painter Jose Cardona also attended the event. Monroe's Carnation smokestack served as Cardona and McLatchy's second artistic collaboration; the two also decorated the Carnation smokestack in Mount Vernon.
As far as selecting the design for Monroe's smokestack, Wirkebau-Hartt engaged the community in a voting process, giving voters four different options from which to choose. A total of 1,752 people participated in the voting process, and McLatchy's Sky Valley-themed design featuring Mt. Index and the Skykomish River won hands-down with over 1,000 votes.
Several attendees spoke at the event, including Senator Pearson and Representative Scott.
"I was delighted to be able to come today. I think it's important that the community has touchstones and ways to kind of connect with the past and look forward to the future,GÇ¥ said Scott. "This is one of those moments when we can do that.GÇ¥
Mayor Thomas got fitted with safety gear and rode up in a lift to christen the smokestack with a bottle of faux champagne, otherwise known as sparkling apple cider.
"Thank you very much to the chamber; thank you very much to Fred Wolfstone and thank you very much to everybody else that's been part of this,GÇ¥ said Mayor Thomas.
Wirkebau-Hartt started at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce in April, and immediately set to work on establishing communication with business owners and members of the community to learn more about what works for them and what does not. She has been a passionate advocate for the city of Monroe and painting the smokestack became a part of her vision to aid in improving the image of the downtown core.
"Here we have this amazing piece of our history,GÇ¥ said Wirkebau-Hartt. "We need to embrace what we have and make it ours.GÇ¥

She reached out to the property owner, Fred Wolfstone, who owns the smokestack and the nearby shopping center. She set about soliciting donations from local businesses, and worked to obtain grants and other methods of accomplishing the task.
"Out-of-pocket expenses were less than $10,000 and all of that came from the chamber; all through grant monies that we have to market the downtown core,GÇ¥ said Wirkebau-Hartt. "We felt that it was very important to have a gateway, a signage, a welcome, a "Hey this is us!' that will bring exposure and conversation about our community.GÇ¥
When it comes to the placement of the lettering that spells out Monroe down the north side of the stack, Wirkebau-Hartt considered options carefully before making a definitive call. In the end, she chose to place the lettering on the north side of the stack to achieve the highest level of visibility. She explained that, had the lettering been oriented to the northeast or the northwest, visibility would be directionally restricted so that only those traveling in the corresponding direction would see it.
By having it facing exclusively north, drivers traveling either east or west can see a hint of it as they approach, and once they are at the intersection, the entire word becomes visible.
Having the design facing south was also an option, but she felt that the optimal level of visibility could be achieved from the north. And there simply wasn't room to have Monroe painted on the stack twice, due to limitations from the circumference of the stack, which grows increasingly narrow as it nears the top of the 150-foot structure.
The letters themselves proved to be a challenging endeavor for painter Jose Cardona, who had to make sure that each 8-foot by 5-foot letter was perfectly uniform. The process involved measure out 10-foot sections of the stack, and then creating the letters to be precisely 8 feet in height. All of this while balanced on a small lift, 135-feet in the air.
"That took me one whole day,GÇ¥ said Cardona. "Just to do the lettering.GÇ¥
Wind was also a factor when performing the work; Cardona explained that, on two separate occasions it was too blustery for him to ride more than halfway up the stack. "The boom would start shaking a lot,GÇ¥ he explained.
For McLatchy, the christening celebration was an opportunity to see her work reproduced on such a large scale.
"It's quite amazing,GÇ¥ said McLatchy.
McLatchy, who always knew that she would be an artist, frequently works with oil paints and watercolors, and seldom has to plan for her work to span a structure that stretches 150-feet into the air; unless, of course, she's designing for a Carnation smokestack.
She explained that it was challenging to determine how to positon the letters in relation to the mountains, particularly since, when the process was scheduled to begin, the 150-foot lift that the chamber hoped to be able to obtain was unavailable. Accommodations were made to account for the fact that Cardona would be utilizing a shorter lift, and thus would be unable to reach the very top of the stack.
Adrian Taylor, owner of Ben Franklin Crafts and Frameshop in Monroe, has had a desire to see the smokestack painted ever since he first came to Monroe in 1975. Taylor praised Wirkebau-Hartt for her energetic gumption in tackling what seemed to be an impossible task.
"She did what nobody else could do in the last 50 years,GÇ¥ said Taylor. "It really means a lot that it's done.GÇ¥
"Una and Shelley, working behind the scenes, pulled off a miracle,GÇ¥ he continued. "An absolute miracle.GÇ¥


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