Wanda Smith-Jeter used friendly conversation to intercept the curious who kept asking what her husband was up to in the lower entrance to the Carl Gipson Senior Center.
That allowed Jeter to spend almost every day this spring immersed in transforming a drab concrete wall into a vibrant tribute to the senior center's namesake. An acrylic portrait of retired City Councilman Carl Gipson now faces the entryway, with scenes from his life and trailblazing career illustrated in dazzling color.
“It was a lot of fun, actually,” Jeter said.
For now, a curtain hides the finished product. The senior center plans to unveil it during a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. June 18. The event features an art show with Jeter's paintings and sculptures.
Jeter, an award-winning artist, donated his time and talent to make the mural.
Since arriving in Everett in 1999, he's been active in promoting the city's art scene and supporting other artists. Some may recognize the Jimi Hendrix-themed piano he painted for the city's Street Tunes project.
“He's a renaissance artist — he's knowledgeable in a lot of different mediums,” said Carol Thomas, the city's cultural arts manager. “He paints, he sculpts, he carves in wood.”
The senior center had been hoping someone would come along and brighten up the entryway. A mural figured into the center's wish-list, along with items such as bocce balls, a microwave and collapsible tables.
During Gipson's 90th birthday party at the senior center in January, Smith-Jeter brought up the idea of her husband painting the mural.
“We're blessed that Wanda came to the party and her husband agreed to do that,” said Deb Loughrey-Johnson, senior center director.
Loughrey-Johnson is excited to have a piece of art that honors a great figure in Everett's history.
“We're going to have a piece that will always remind us of our roots,” she said. “He didn't just start our senior center, he made a lot of things happen in our city. And he broke down barriers.”
The Everett City Council voted unanimously in 2009 to name the senior center after Gipson.
Gipson served for 24 years on the Everett City Council. When first elected in 1971, he was the city's first minority council member. Gipson was council president when city leaders chose the senior center's location and when it was dedicated.
Jeter, 62, grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, but has lived in Atlanta, New Orleans and Modesto, California. He began drawing in elementary school, picking up an artistic bent from his parents, who were teachers. He shares his name with his grandfather, an artist in his own right who made baskets out of wood strips.
Jeter's work at the senior center began March 5, with mundane prep work, like sealing the porous wall surface.
For inspiration, Jeter researched Gipson's life and became more impressed as he studied up. They hadn't known each other beforehand, but got to meet during the project.
Jeter also heard from senior center visitors for whom Gipson had helped find jobs years ago.
“By helping other people, I think he helped the community,” Jeter said. “It helped build the whole city up.”
Gipson was born in rural Arkansas in 1924, the grandson of a slave. The mural traces the journey that followed.
Gipson and his wife, Jodie, settled in Everett after World War II. They sought to escape the segregation in the South, though they encountered racial prejudice in their adopted community as well.
The Gipsons endured threats in the early 1950s after moving into an all-white neighborhood on Hoyt Avenue. The Everett Elks Lodge fraternal organization also rejected his membership application.
Gipson worked his way up from washing cars at the Sevenich Chevrolet dealership on Rucker Avenue. When he became shop foreman, he was the first black man on the West Coast to hold such a position at a Chevrolet dealership.
Gipson later operated service stations, a car dealership and a popular tavern and restaurant. He was a Boy Scout leader, Everett High School PTA president and a member of the Rotary and the General Hospital Board, among other volunteer activities.
The Gipsons had three sons. The youngest, Ron, has served on the City Council since his father's retirement in 1995. The eldest, Carlton, is Everett's facilities director. Middle son Alex died in 1990. Gipson's wife, Jodie, who figures prominently in the mural, died in 2007.
Gipson still lives in his Everett home and comes to lunch at the senior center on Tuesdays.
Future senior center visitors may notice something curious when they walk by his portrait: the eyes appear to follow you as you pass by. It's an unintended consequence of the wall's curvature.
“It's an optical illusion,” Jeter said. “It just turned out that way.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: 5 to 7 p.m. June 18
Where: The Carl Gipson Senior Center, 3025 Lombard, Everett
The event includes an art show featuring the work of Jesse James Jeter, who painted the mural.
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