MONMOUTH -- The religious school founded in Monmouth almost 160 years ago by settlers who traveled by wagon train from Illinois still stands today.

Remnants of the local Kalapuya Indians, the area's earliest inhabitants, meanwhile, surface when arrowheads and artifacts are unearthed along the banks of Ash Creek.

A historical perspective on Monmouth means considering the obvious institutions. A forthcoming mural in the downtown area might help clarify both.

The city has commissioned artist Roger Cooke of Sandy to paint a mural that measures 10 feet 6 inches high and 23 feet long on the west side of the Knecht's Auto Parts building at 401 Main St. E.

"We're trying to help make Monmouth a more art-friendly town and contribute to sense of place in the community," said Sue Mason, a member of the city's Arts and Cultural Commission.

The $8,800 project may begin once the weather dries out, and would take about three weeks to finish, Cooke said.

The mural has been roughly three years in the making. Officials had originally approved a concept back in 2007, to be painted on the Monmouth Laundromat building on Main Street.

The arts commission later retooled the desired image and sought applications for professionals throughout Oregon and Washington to handle the project.

Cooke, who has painted more than 50 historic murals in five states, was tapped for the job and was to have begun last year.

A bout with cancer, however, kept Cooke from work. Meanwhile, communication with the laundromat owner halted, so officials began hunting for a new canvas and found one at the plaza building across Ecols Street from the library, said City Manager Scott McClure.

Mason said the goal with the mural was to offer a "historic context" of Monmouth. Commission members tossed around ideas and sifted through old photographs at the Polk County Historical Museum and Western Oregon University's

own collection.

"There was a little pressure," Mason said. "We didn't want to do anything inappropriate."

Some of those images found their way into the mural Cooke designed. A mural panel Campbell Hall, for example, incorporates of an actual 1918 picture of the Oregon Normal School's girls basketball team.

Others, like one of a small church and a preacher, were representative of images Cooke had come across in past research, he said.

"I wanted strong images that were visual grabbers from a distance," he said.

Mason said the weather of late has frustrated her, further delaying the already-overdue mural.

"But we think it will be a nice addition to the community," she said.

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