MOUNT VERNON — Empire Alehouse co-owner Jeff Brooks has fielded plenty of questions about the mural that was painted this summer across the street from his business.
The sprawling painting depicts local images such as tulip fields alongside well-known historical icons such as Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin.
“People are really intrigued by it,” Brooks said.
In an effort to help onlookers better understand the artwork, mural organizer Aaron Wagner and volunteer Mark Pearson delivered stacks of informational posters to downtown Mount Vernon businesses on Thursday.
The posters depict the full mural with a legend describing the meanings behind many of the images.
The mural, painted by about 200 volunteers, was organized by artist Benjamin Swatez and Wagner, the director of the local nonprofit Voices of the Children.
It portrays the significant impacts of immigration, both locally and on a broader scale, Wagner said. Local youths through Wagner’s organization helped brainstorm concepts and references for the mural.
The mural includes some obscure images that the new informational poster will help explain, Swatez said.
For instance, one image depicts Legson Kayira, who immigrated from Africa, studied at Skagit Valley College and became a writer.
Pearson, who volunteered to help gather supplies and paint the mural, said some people have questioned its local connection.
“Comments were like, ‘This isn’t very Skagit Valley,’” he said. “Some of the responses were that people didn’t quite get it.”
Added Wagner, “There’s a lot on the mural and unless you know all the references, it might not make a lot of sense.”
The mural touches on Skagit Valley in some obvious ways, such as the prominently displayed tulip fields, and in more subtle ways, such as the unbridled horse with feathers in its mane that represents the freedom Native Americans possessed on the land they originally inhabited.
Those are referenced on the informational posters Brooks and Wagner were handing out Thursday.
Wagner and Pearson made Empire Alehouse their first stop, handing Brooks a stack of the posters.
“This new guide is really going to help people figure it out,” Brooks said. “People aren’t just glancing at it. A lot of people stand there for 20 or 25 minutes really scouring through it and trying to find all the neat stuff.”
Through his organization, Wagner also plans to create a website about the mural that includes image descriptions and videos. He is also working with a California app developer to create a free augmented reality app.
“You would open the app standing in front of this wall on your smartphone or tablet and it uses the camera to recognize the images on the mural and it brings some of them to life,” Wagner said.
The app would also be used for the organization’s other murals and could be completed by the end of the year, he said.