The mural of Bettie Page on the side of Jessica Baxter’s house is one of the few works of art you can see from Interstate 5 in Seattle. But it seems not everyone is happy about it: Earlier this week, vandals used red paint to deface the mural, which features the 1950s pinup model, with her signature black bangs, and John Waters’ drag queen muse Divine.
The mural, located at the intersection of Seventh Avenue Northeast and Northeast 59th Street, was attacked at 2 a.m. Sunday, Baxter said. The vandals brought along glass Christmas ornaments filled with red oil-based paint, she reported, and “hurled them at the house,” leaving a mess behind.
She said the vandals also made off with a “Black Lives Matter” sign.
The attack happened so quickly, Baxter said, that by the time she’d woken up and gotten to the window, whoever had targeted Bettie and Divine was gone.
Baxter said she had no idea who was behind the nocturnal attack. They “didn’t leave a calling card or manifesto,” she said wryly. She reported the attack to the police.
The mural has been more positively received by others.
A GoFundMe page set up to cover the expenses of the repainting had already exceeded its $4,000 fundraising goal as of Thursday afternoon. “That mural is tied to many good summer memories and it is a beautiful piece of art!” wrote one donor.
Originally painted in 2005 by artist John Green, the mural was previously attacked in 2016. Also in late June of that year, vandals threw gray paint on the mural and, reported The Seattle Times at the time, left a message — “Stop exploiting women’s bodies” — signed only “some feminists.”
Contemporaneous accounts and comments from those who knew or engaged with Page’s work would suggest this is a misreading.
As artist Olivia De Berardinis told the Los Angeles Times in a 2008 obituary of the model: “[I]t took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad-girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and playacting — it was part of the fun of being a woman.”
After the 2016 vandalism, artist Two Thangs repaired the damage to Page and added the second image, this one of drag queen Divine.
“The ladies became fast friends and we were so proud to have such incredible and unique art on our house to share with the I-5 passersby,” wrote Baxter on the GoFundMe page. “People tell us all the time that they love the painting and it makes us so happy to contribute to a sense of community that was once [a] hallmark in Seattle but has been on the decline.”
Baxter said Two Thangs would be returning this month to repair the work again. “We’re gonna keep putting it back up,” she said.
On her GoFundMe page, Baxter said that house painters she’d already hired for a different project “sprung into action” the morning the mural was defaced, using a pressure washer and paint thinner on a historically hot day to clean up most of the “oil-based red glop.” But Bettie and Divine “will still need touch ups.”
For that, Two Thangs will be flown in from Rhode Island to work his magic on the icons. “We just want our girls back and we want him to be well compensated for it,” said Baxter.