It’s an amazing art exhibit, hidden in plain sight.
A dozen bright, bold murals depict scenes from around the world: Red Square. Great Pyramids of Egypt. Rio de Janeiro. Australia’s Ayers Rock.
Chances are you’ve driven by the painted wonders at 607 SE Everett Mall Way many times without noticing.
What’s up with that?
How could you not notice the Taj Mahal and The Great Wall?
The colorful murals line the backside of the International Marketplace, a long and low nondescript building that sits perpendicular from the street.
You can also see the murals from the northern edge of the Everett Target-Sports Authority parking lot, now that you know to look.
The murals were painted by three girls in high school and college over summers from 2009 to 2013.
The purpose was to liven up the cement-block building.
“It was just gray, that ugly gray, then we just put some color on it,” said Grace Robinson-Elmslie, now 20, the youngest of the trio.
“There’s really not a lot of art in this part of Everett,” said her older sister and head painter, Vanessa Robinson, 25. “My grandma has always been a huge fan of the arts.”
It was Grandma Dorothy Robinson’s idea to decorate the exterior with murals to reflect the global theme. She and Grandpa Bill own and manage the 58,000-square-foot building that houses about 40 businesses, including a taekwondo studio, craft brewery, beauty college, learning center and numerous startups.
The girls were commissioned to jazz it up.
It was a real job. They worked hard. They earned payroll checks.
Vanessa, an art major at the time, was the mural mastermind. She recruited her friend Samantha Gleissner and Grace to help. Other family and friends pitched in.
“We started out painting just one to see how it goes,” said Vanessa, now a graphic designer for South by Sea, an Edmonds custom apparel company.
The first mural was the giant Earth and African flags in the very back by Moon Dragon Games.
“We came up with designs mainly on our own,” Vanessa said.
It was a simple operation, with makeshift scaffolding and acrylic paint from Michael’s. Some sketches by Vanessa were enlarged onto the wall using a 30-year-old overhead projector.
“We made some big mistakes, but then we covered them up. That’s the good thing about paint,” Samantha said.
They started a Facebook page, Death by Murals. (Check it out, it’s still there.)
“We were working outside in the rain and heat. It was kind of a joke,” said Vanessa, who designed “Death by Murals” letterheads and business cards for a class project. “We handed out a few business cards.”
Samantha liked painting the animals. She majored in wildlife conservation and works at Woodland Park Zoo.
“Art was something fun to do. Something to get away from science stuff,” she said.
That yellow cat in the Greece mural honors her dearly departed Spike.
Butterflies and flowers were the specialty for Grace, who works at Garden Treasures, an organic nursery in Arlington.
There were obstacles, like trying to get pipes to blend in and dealing with the porous surface of the blocks.
Their main worry was gang tagging, so the art was coated with a clear sealer. In the beginning, there were a few issues with tags. Not anymore.
“I think a lot of the people around here respect the art a little too much to do that,” Samantha said.
For some reason, the murals never got recognition beyond the circle of customers that visit the businesses on the backside of the plaza.
Attempts to get media attention failed, so a relative sent this letter to the editor of The Herald in 2010:
“I think it’s sad that no one seems to even know they exist. Sure, they are not in a museum or an art gallery, but they are gorgeous and I believe that every one should drive by and take a look at them if they are in the area. Art created for the community often goes unrecognized and unappreciated … I just want more people to be aware of their hard work and incredible skills as artists.”
The biggest fan is Grandma Dorothy.
“I think when people visit the area, it should be something they want to see,” Dorothy Robinson said. “You take people out to show them things in the area that are unique. It should be a real draw.”
Do the artists wish more people saw their work?
“It would be nice if people knew they were there,” Vanessa said. “The plaza is very multi-cultural. There are some cool really small businesses and it would be good for them.”