The digital reproduction of the mural "The Shortcut" was installed on the Les Schwab building in Vale and replaced the original done in artist paints. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

VALE – There was no paint in sight when the new mural on the Les Schwab building was installed in July. That’s because the mural is a digital reproduction of the original painted in 1994.

“It’s an experiment for us to see what we might do at less cost,” said Frank Yraguen, member of the Vale Heritage Reflections Mural Society. “We’re really interested in longevity.”

Roughly a dozen of Vale’s 34 murals could use a makeover, but cost is an issue.

A digital reproduction costs about a third of what a traditional mural costs, said Yraguen.

The mural society retained the small-scale paintings that mural artists completed before launching on the murals around town. With those in hand, the next step is to scan the paintings and increase their size on the computer, said Tate Turner, owner and operator of T-N-T Signs & Graphics in Ontario.

The image is then printed on vinyl laminate boards set on aluminum composite panels.

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Turner’s company did the work. The cost for the renewed Les Schwab mural, titled “The Shortcut,” came to $5,420.

So far “The Shortcut” is the only mural in town to have been replaced this way. In the spring an artist was brought in to repaint the mural at the Vale Christian Church. That project, done with artist paints, came out to $15,428.

The typical lifespan of a painted outdoor mural is anywhere from 10 to 20 years.

Turner expects the digitally printed mural will last at least 10 years.

“Hopefully it will last longer than the original paintings, that’s the goal and it’s a little less money,” Turner said.

He said the reproduction would hold up better in rain and snow than a painting would, but the sun is the biggest issue. About a decade back he completed a similar project on the Elks Lodge building in Ontario that is still holding up well, he said.

Since the Vale mural project began in 1992, the group has sought ways to preserve the outdoor artworks. A few of them now feature a metal overhang that allows any moisture to drip off the edge rather than directly onto the mural. It’s a small detail, said Yraguen, but can end up making a difference.

“It’s those little things we’ve picked up through the years – we’re hopeful a combination of these things we’ve learned will lead to a longer life,” he said.

Don Gray, the artist who painted the original mural on Les Schwab, is intrigued by the project.

“If it’s a way for them to keep their project going, more power to them,” said Gray.

Gray, an artist who grew up in La Grande and now lives in Vancouver, Washington, painted the first two murals of his career in Vale. Since the summer of 1993, Gray has gone on to paint more than 50 murals.

Gray often has clients call him to touch up the pieces, but with outdoor murals he said there really isn’t such a thing after 10 or 25 years.

“As soon as you put the first touch on it, you have to match everything. In other words you have to repaint them.”

Gray says murals can range in price from $12,000 to $25,000. Some can climb up to $40,000.

Cost and the elements are just two of the issues preying on the Vale murals, said Yraguen.

“I’ll tell you what we really need are younger individuals who might have a similar interest in promoting Vale. You don’t have to be an artist but we need people who are willing to carry on with the mural society,” he said.

The group, which once counted about 50 members, now has only about a half dozen.

Community members interested in a tour of the murals around Vale can contact Frank Yraguen at [email protected] or 541-212-1715.

News tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: 541-473-3377 or [email protected]

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