Ashland beautification project comes to fruition

Seven drab green utility boxes around Ashland have been transformed into pieces of art.

Artists braved 100-degree temperatures over this past weekend to paint the boxes for the city of Ashland's Utility Box Beautification Project.

Artists were asked to submit designs for the project's theme of "Reflections of Ashland."

"It said that the designs should reflect the culture of Ashland," said artist Zelpha Hutton. "I thought, 'What is the culture of Ashland?'"

A visit to Blue Heron Gallery & Gifts downtown provided her with an idea when she noticed several dogs tied up at the nearby Agave restaurant while their owners dined. A bicycle was also outside.

The scene — often repeated at cafés all around town — inspired Hutton to create a playful design featuring dogs tied to a table with a bowl of water and a bicycle nearby. The utility box she painted is in front of U.S. Bank on Second Street.

Artist Ann DiSalvo painted swans on a utility box near the Ashland Yoga Center at the corner of A and Fourth streets as her way of bringing the majestic but troublesome birds back to Ashland.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department used to have a pair of swans in Lithia Park's lower duck pond.

They had to have their wings clipped so they wouldn't fly away. The swans sometimes horrified residents and tourists visiting the pond by attacking and killing ducklings.

When one swan died, city officials decided to relocate the remaining swan to a pond out of town rather than try to find a new mate to keep the tradition of swans in Ashland alive.

DiSalvo said she misses the swans. But she also used to have peacocks that attacked other animals, so she knows that large birds can be difficult as well as beautiful.

The box she painted depicts adult swans as well as goslings, a turtle and water lilies.

DiSalvo said she's glad the city of Ashland helped provide the opportunity for artists to paint utility boxes.

"It's something I wish I could have done a long time ago. They look like canvases waiting to be painted on," she said.

In addition to support from the city government and the Ashland Public Arts Commission, the utility box project was made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition and donations of paint and services from Miller Paint Co., The Party Place and Meyers Painting.

The Ashland Elks Club allowed the city to use the club's parking lot as a staging area for the artists to pick up supplies. Students also aided the artists and earned community service credit.

Artists receive a $100 stipend per utility box.

Kathleen Taylor was chosen to paint two utility boxes with her designs featuring poppies. Vivid red poppies pop out from a blue background on a utility box in front of Trinity Episcopal Church on Second Street.

Taylor painted poppies and a fanciful hummingbird on a box in front of Ashland Sanitary & Recycling on Oak Street.

She said a look through her window at poppies growing outside provided her with inspiration.

Taylor said she's glad the city of Ashland decided to have ugly utility boxes decorated by artists.

"I think it's a great idea. It will help promote art in Ashland and beautify the city at the same time," she said.

The idea to paint utility boxes in Ashland came from residents who made numerous suggestions when the city was crafting a Public Arts Master Plan, including that existing utilitarian structures be painted.

Cities in many countries, from America to Australia, have used utility boxes as canvases for public art. However, the practice still remains unusual.

City of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer, staff liaison to the Public Arts Commission, said the city is already getting inquiries from other communities that want advice for carrying out their own utility box projects.

Other artists selected for Ashland's utility box project were Pokey McFarland, Adrienne Bailin and Judy Bryant.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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