Artist Lizbeth Cort resigned from the Oak Harbor Arts Commission. She is moving to Santa Fe for a fresh start following the death of her husband in 2015.
But not before leaving her permanent mark on the city.
On a recent day, Cort showed up on Pioneer Way with her paint supplies, chose a fire hydrant and set about the work of bringing it to life.
The idea came from a proposal by councilwoman Tara Hizon that local artists could apply to paint fire hydrants.
Member Therese Kingsbury said the commission loved the idea so much that it has a working plan for artists to apply to adopt hydrants and then paint them all simultaneously during a street fair next spring.
“It would make sense to add the hydrant painting to an existing event, where people would be able to come and make the city more vibrant, but there is still much to work out,” said Cac Kamak, senior planner for the city of Oak Harbor.
Kamak said that before anyone could paint the hydrants en masse, several factors must be ironed out. For example, the city needed to test the waters, see what paints worked best, how long it would take, how many mixing cups would be needed, etc.
That’s where Cort’s paint project came in.
“The commission decided I could be their guinea pig,” Cort joked. “I’m used to painting with watercolor, so painting on a round surface is hard.”
No matter how difficult the change in medium might have been, Cort’s artwork passed the test.
“All day people, when they came to the stoplight, rolled down their windows and said that it was really great, that it’s so great something like this is going on in Oak Harbor.”
While Cort’s test showed that the project can be completed, it also exposed areas of interest to the city that will need to be explored before a potential painting extravaganza, according to Kamak.
“It was a successful test run, in that all the paint stuck,” Kamak said. “It took some creative painting, because it is not like painting a canvas with layers and so forth.”
Cort’s painting ended up taking about five hours, Kamak said, which was longer than previously expected.
Apparently, Cort needed to take several breaks to let the work-in-progress dry, so any potential festival planners will have quite the task on their hands.
Kamak said the commission will need to continue to work with the fire department to obtain the right kind of paint, and will need to prepare artists for the undertaking of painting a hydrant. Both of these steps will be critical so as to prevent officials from having to “put out so many fires” the day of such an event.
Despite leaving for a new life in Santa Fe, Kingsbury said Cort made the hydrant a priority.
Kingsbury added that as folks drove by, they congratulated the artist on her most peculiar choice of canvas.
“Lizbeth squeezed the hydrant into her busy schedule to leave something for Oak Harbor, and to be the start of something,” she said.
Cort’s fresh start is coming in the form of a grand adventure — starting with a one-way ticket. As Kingsbury has it, the only person Cort knows in Santa Fe is her real estate agent.
“She is taking a leap,” Kingsbury said. “She doesn’t know a single person down there. She just picked a town, a liberal haven for the arts, and is looking to start a new life.”
Cort said the move is bittersweet for her. She moved to Whidbey Island 15 years ago to marry her late husband, Larry.
“I really have mixed emotions about this. Larry was head of the project that reconstructed Pioneer Way, so painting the hydrant was emotional for me,” Cort said. “I see it as my gift to the city and a tribute to Larry.”