Local painter Sheila Dunn already has one painting hanging as a part of Visit Bend's Tin Pan Alley Art collection, a portrait of Klondike Kate, Bend's famed dancer turned philanthropist in Gasoline Alley between Wall and Bond Streets in downtown. And over the summer months, Dunn has been meticulously dedicated to a new piece, one that will hang on the side of the O'Kane Building in the next few weeks. It's another historical portrait that represents the rich history of Bend's mill culture.
When she was originally asked to paint another historical figure, Dunn began looking for photos of the infamous Hugh O'Kane, a businessman who built the structure on Bond Street that bears his name in downtown in 1916.
"It was so difficult to find a photo of Hugh O'Kane that I opted to paint a different historical figure. I went to the Deschutes County Historical Society and found a really interesting figure from Bend's past—an old millworker known as the 'Pond Monkey' for his ability to effortlessly hop from floating log to floating log," explained Dunn. "He is not your typical glorified historical figure, but I liked the idea of putting a face to the faceless, tireless working class; the folks that probably shape a community more than anyone else, but do so without the riches and notoriety."
Dunn hopes that her newest piece will help newcomers and longtime residents of Bend reflect on the city's colorful past.
"I hope people reflect on the way history forms—and informs—cultural identity. Just as individuals are made up of a series of past experiences, the soul of a community is formed by all the people and events who came before, like thousands of threads coming together to form the essence of a place," said Dunn. "In reality, I imagine the typical takeaway is probably more like, 'Wow—a really, really big person! Cool!'. And that's fine too."
Visit Bend's Tin Pan Alley art collection is made up of over a dozen offerings from local artists adding a cultural tourism attraction to downtown Bend in the parking garage, in Tin Pan Alley, and now on the O'Kane building.
"I'm so grateful to live in a community that recognizes the value of public art," said Dunn. "It adds depth and character to a place. It is so easy to move through this life on auto-pilot, half aware, and art has a lovely way of cutting through the minutia and wordlessly shouting, 'Look! Change your perspective! Pay attention! Wake the hell up!'"
More of Dunn's work is currently showing at Old Mill Brew Werks.