The vandalized 18-foot Bettie Page mural on a Roosevelt-area house by I-5 is being restored, and she’s being joined by a 12-foot painting of drag queen Divine.
It was a nice, sunny Sunday this holiday weekend. A perfect day to restore an 18-foot outdoor mural of Bettie Page, the pinup star, and begin work on a 12-foot painting alongside it of Divine, the drag queen.
The artistic side of Seattle — OK, maybe the trashy artistic side — had won out over the inconsiderate actions of whoever had splashed dark-gray paint on Bettie.
For good measure, they also painted the message:
“Stop exploiting women’s bodies,” signing it, “some feminists.”
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Since 2005, if you were driving on Interstate 5 and happened to glance eastward to the intersection of Seventh Avenue Northeast and Northeast 59th Street, you’d have seen the giant Bettie Page mural painted on a house just across from the freeway fence.
If you were stuck in another gridlock, Bettie couldn’t help but make you smile. She had become a Seattle landmark, the kind of art you won’t find in corporate South Lake Union edifices.
Then, in late June, the vandals hit.
The home is owned by Jessica Baxter, a web journalist who writes everything from restaurant to film reviews, and her husband, Chris Brugos, an Amazon product manager.
They have two children, Lula, 4, and Frank, 2. They haven’t known life without Bettie.
Says Lula about the vandalism: “I thought that was not a nice thing to do. I really do not know why they did it.”
Baxter covered over with white paint most of the vandals’ message. She then wrote her own message:
“Autonomous sexuality is empowerment. Telling a woman to cover up is oppression.”
Then it was time to figure out how to make things right with the mural.
People had dropped off nice notes at the house; some had volunteered donations to help the restoration. Dexter told them to donate instead to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.
Back in 2005, Brugos and a friend, John Green, had spent two weeks’ worth of evenings painting the mural.
“I always liked her story,” Brugos says about Bettie. “I like the era.”
Bettie Page, who died in 2008, told Playboy magazine about being the “Queen of Pinups:”
“I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”
Brugos found out about the vandalism when taking his usual bus to work that goes south on I-5. He looked to his house and there was the paint splotching.
He says he decided, “It’s fixable.”
Brugos says his friend Green wasn’t interested in fixing up Bettie.
But the couple had commissioned work from Matthew Brennan IV, a local artist whose business is called “Two Thangs.”
For $350 to $550 — depending on the size of the painting — Brennan says he’ll combine any two pop-culture items or ideas.
For Brugos and Baxter, he had earlier combined director David Lynch and the Matterhorn Bobsleds from Disneyland. What else would you expect from the people who had a Bettie Page mural?
Baxter decided that not only would Bettie be refurbished, but drag queen Divine, who died in 1988, would be added alongside her. They commissioned Brennan to do the work.
Baxter says she likes the juxtaposition: “There is no wrong way to be feminine, no wrong way to be a woman, despite the status quo.”
And so starting a few days ago, checking the weather forecast for rain, Brennan began work.
He first drew a sketch of Divine in a reclining position, using the famous image of Divine in the John Waters 1972 cult classic, “Pink Flamingos.”
Brennan used the smaller sketch, which he had cut up into squares, to draw with a Sharpie pen on the vinyl siding at house.
With the rushing freeway noise in the background, he had finished that Sunday and was beginning to paint in Divine’s red lips and blue eye mascara. He hopes to be done by Monday.
“Low brow has a value,” Brennan says.
The new mural will also have a couple of additions familiar to those in the new Seattle:
Baxter and Brugos have installed a security camera and a motion-sensor light.
They’re also looking into the cost and effectiveness of anti-graffiti coating.
And maybe the state’s Department of Transportation could also install a trigger-warning sign along that stretch of I-5.