Sign painter Don Rockwell changes out paint brushes as he works on a colorful mural along a wall on California Street in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Sign painter Don Rockwell changes out paint brushes as he works on a colorful mural along a wall on California Street in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

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Bold mural turns Everett street into a funkadelic district

Check out the city-centric ship montage with an airplane wing, seagull, Funko crown, hockey stick.

Downtown Everett just got more funkadelic.

What’s up with that?

The paint is still drying on a new mural on California Street near Colby Avenue: a 60-foot Everett-centric montage in psychedelic colors. It has a bear piloting a cargo ship carrying an airplane wing, seagull, Funko crown, baseball, hockey stick, guitar and paintbrush.

The bold design is by Seattle agency Invisible Creature, which created the Instagram-famous Cinerama mural at the landmark theater in Belltown.

The “Welcome to Everett” mural is across the alley from Funko on the side of El Paraiso Mexican Grill.

Mark Bryant of Kenmore watched the progress in July on his frequent trips to Funko.

“The use of the colors with orange and red and polka-dots, it just pops and catches your eye as soon as you come around the corner,” Bryant said.

Funding is from Skotdal Real Estate and the city’s lodging tax grant. City spokesman Julio Cortes said Everett wants to get certified this year as a Creative District by the Washington State Arts Commission. Edmonds and Langley are among the state’s eight certified districts.

“We’re a maker city,” Cortes said. “We make everything from Funko Pops to airplane parts and we also make a lot of art — music and painting and all that.”

The dynamic mural is a social media magnet.

“When visitors are coming in and taking photos of cool art in the city it helps us spread our message,” Cortes said.

The man with the paintbrush for the past three weeks is Don Rockwell.

No, he’s not related to Norman, but he gets a kick out of telling people he is.

“I say, ‘Good old Uncle Norman.’ That’s my response,” he said. “And then they say ‘Really?’ and I say ‘No.’”

Rockwell, 62, is a sign painter by trade. He has painted B.B. King, King Kong, Pearl Jam and peanut butter on bars, barns and buildings in Washington, primarily around Seattle. Sometimes he designs the art, too, but often he paints someone else’s vision.

That’s the case with this mural, his first in Snohomish County. Rockwell will be back this week for touch-up and the final clear coat.

On a recent day, his silver hair had dapples of turquoise and purple paint. His forehead had a splash of green.

“I’ve met a lot of nice people. The further along, the nicer they get,” Rockwell said.

“I’ve done a lot of paintings right on the street, on walls near the roughest corner, right by the smoking alley. When I first get there and start setting up ladders and putting on primer and my truck is parked in an unusual position, people come by and look at me like, ‘Oh, no, what is this guy doing in my way?’ They stray past me and are inconvenienced. But the time I start putting on color, people start saying nice things.”

Don Rockwell marks lines as he paints a colorful mural along a wall on California Street in Everett on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Don Rockwell marks lines as he paints a colorful mural along a wall on California Street in Everett on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett residents Merri and Mel Borseth paused to admire the nearly finished mural last week.

“It’s nice to see some cheeriness going on at this time,” she said.

“It brightens the town up a little bit,” he said.

Rockwell did this project without his right-hand man, Dennis, his 25-year-old son with autism. Due to COVID-19, Dennis can’t leave his residential center in Buckley.

“He used to come out to every job I was on. He’s a real hard worker. He’s a big strong guy,” Rockwell said. “I had him doing all the lifting and carrying and being there to give me a second set of hands. He wants to do physical labor and make a difference.”

Rockwell has been unable to visit his son during the pandemic.

“He’s trapped down there until things loosen up,” he said.

Dennis was with him when he did a Sunny Jim Peanut Butter mural on a Whidbey Island barn about five years ago. You can see it on Rollinghill Road in Clinton. It has a giant peanut character with the apple-cheeked kid on the Sunny Jim brand that in the 1950s buttered many sandwiches in the Seattle area.

Don Rockwell with the help of his son, Dennis, painted a Sunny Jim Peanut Butter mural on a barn in Clinton on Whidbey Island about five years ago. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Don Rockwell with the help of his son, Dennis, painted a Sunny Jim Peanut Butter mural on a barn in Clinton on Whidbey Island about five years ago. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

It led to a second gig for Don and Dennis.

“After we did one a guy saw it and he said, ‘I have to have that on the side of my barn,’” Rockwell said.

He did many of the record covers for Silver Platters in SoDo. The Cinerama mural he painted for Invisible Creature in 2014 was among his flashiest.

“It’s massive. I put six other painters on it with me. We came down the wall on two stages just like a digital printer, all working at once applying paint. It was pretty cool, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Rockwell, now of Shoreline, grew up in Bremerton. A career planning class in high school set the course for his life.

“I just took it as an easy credit,” he said. “I wrote down I wanted to do something with art. The teacher set up a shadow day where I would go hang out in a sign shop to see what a sign painter did. The guy was an ornery old man. I grew up around ornery people. So he and I were a good match. I kept coming back.”

A few years later he set out on his own.

“I ran an ad: ‘Interior, exterior painting, also sign painting.’”

Two calls were for house painting.

“My third phone call was from a sign shop looking for a helper. It was looking over the Pike Place Market, looking right down over the clock. I was there for a year and a half,” Rockwell said.

“Then I got a union apprenticeship as a sign painter at Messenger Signs. They were one of two premier shops in town. They did all the nice gold leaf work and raised letters, they were the big dogs on the porch. The guy I was working with at the shop said, ‘Wow, Don. That’s like getting a scholarship to the best college in town.’”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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