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East End Metamorphosis

ARTIST JIM SEMLOR stands in front of one of two Sunshine Mill murals he designed to help make the historic landmark a marquee destination winery. The graphics of the mural will be reflected in all of the marketing materials for the mill, as one version of the logo suggests.

Photo by Mark Gibson
ARTIST JIM SEMLOR stands in front of one of two Sunshine Mill murals he designed to help make the historic landmark a marquee destination winery. The graphics of the mural will be reflected in all of the marketing materials for the mill, as one version of the logo suggests.

History sought

The Martin family expects to have a celebration of the Sunshine Mill’s 100th anniversary and new exterior image this fall. They are seeking photos and memorabilia from the building’s history for a display.

Call 298-8900 for details.


Sunshine Mill, after 1950's cleanup.


Sunshine Mill, 1950s before cleanup.

Moment by moment, a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis to unsheathe its brilliant colors. Like that butterfly, the Sunshine Mill is undergoing a metamorphosis, but unlike the butterfly, its colorful change is occurring day by day as the public watches.

Since last fall, the mill’s drab and dingy white exterior has been transformed with color, a rich red and dramatic black. Over the course of this month, passersby have seen the outlines of mural images take shape in chalk-like white strokes. Now the design is being brought to life with a rich application of color.

Work at Sunshine Mill is taking shape under the hands of two skilled artists, Jim Semlor and Ethan Radcliffe. Semlor is the designer and Radcliffe is bringing the work to life in paint.

The project, four years in the making, has been paid for by $100,000 of a $600,000 loan Sunshine Mill owners James and Mollie Martin received from the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency. The first $500,000 went toward opening the mill’s doors to the public, Mollie explained, while the last $100,000 was earmarked for exterior painting.

“We got a lot of bids that were well over that amount,” Mollie said. “So in the last four years our ideas have changed.”

The vision started years before, she said.


JIM SEMLOR studies the computer screen as the image of the future Sunshine Mill mural is projected the building.

“Our goal was to make this a world-class destination — if we were lucky,” she said. “This week, we were excited because two people from Budapest [Hungary] came in. They were told, of all the wineries in the gorge, they had to visit ours.”

The Martins worked with an architect to develop the color elements of the design. The deep red was drawn from the roof color of the smaller warehouse building, which offered the first hints of what was to come on the larger mill building. The sunshine yellow of the lettering is also a special concoction.

Semlor brainstormed with the Martins on what elements and features to include. They wanted something reminiscent of the historical murals that painted on the sides of buildings in The Dalles, such as the Albers Flapjacks, Coca Cola, The Dalles Ironworks and Regulator shipping murals that are preserved on some downtown buildings.


MURAL ARTIST Ethan Radcliffe applies color to the mural at the Sunshine Mill. The mural and dramatic paint work are part of an overall design image created by artist Jim Semlor.

“We talked about vinyl, but we said ‘no way, it’s got to be painted,” said Natasha Martin, James’ and Mollie’s daughter and Sunshine’s marketing director.

Images in the murals are drawn from several eras, Semlor said. “Even though this has an industrial, ‘50s sort of vibe with the font, the east side mural has whimsical, Victorian, steampunk elements.”

As an example, he refers to the late 1800s Edison lightbulb that is included in the east-facing mural. The mill has several bare Edison bulbs inside and a generator designed by Edison for the mill, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

The Martins responded strongly to Semlor’s designs.

“We were blown away,” said Natasha.

Moving the images from computer to building was a logistical challenge involving a projector and 65-foot hydraulic lift.


The mural and dramatic paint work are part of an overall design image, below, designed by artist Jim Semlor to carry through all of the mill’s marketing materials.

“We’d project chunks on it at a time,” Semlor explained, starting around 9:30 at night, as the summer sunlight disappeared. But as the lift moved up and down in front of the building’s face, it moved closer and farther away, changing the scale of the image. That meant new adjustments.

Semlor credits math and serendipity for the outcome.

Even as Radcliffe was transferring the images onto the building, changes were being made, Semlor said, as the artists and the owners saw the mural take shape in massive scale. Some pieces were adjusted or moved, others were added, like the word “winery” at the top.

They toyed with adding imagery from the Quinett Winery, the Martins’ high-end boutique label, or the Copa di Vino individual-serving wine to the mural. Instead, they decided the mill should have its own identity as an artisan plaza, distinct from these and any future products that may be made there.

That identity carries through all of Sunshine’s marketing materials from signs, brochures and menus to the smallest seals and business cards. Semlor is hopeful that the design of the building and materials has a good chance to win national and international design awards.

But first those big murals have to be completed under Radcliffe’s hands. Even before that, the surfaces had to be power-washed and painted, a process that took painter Martin Santana months starting in fall 2013. Santana said he is proud of the work he has done on the building, but was scared while perched on the scaffold every day in whipping winds. The most frightening part was the water tower on the north side of the building, which looms 137 feet above the ground.

“One day he said to me that being scared keeps him alive,” James Martin said of the soft-spoken Santana.

The east and the west walls were the first to be painted, in stark black. The initial response from the community was not positive.

“We were flooded with calls,” Mollie said with eyes wide for emphasis. “They were not happy.”

The Sunshine folks asked for patience.

Since the addition of the deep red and start of the murals, reactions have been universally positive, Natasha said. Meanwhile, Radcliffe continues, day by day, to fill in the color and detailing of the mill murals.

At first, Radcliffe was uncertain. It took James Martin a couple of months to convince him.

“I don’t usually get the big, graphic work,” Radcliffe said. “It’s usually more organic forms. Every letter has to be re-leveled and straightened. Everything is measured out.”

He also wasn’t thrilled with the idea of perching 90 feet in the air while The Dalles’ dry summer winds whipped around him. “When you’re up there, everything is moving across the scaffold,” Radcliffe said. “And you’ve got this [safety] harness you’re lugging behind with the rope playing out as your go. It gets worse the higher you get.”

Radcliffe takes extra paint with him on the scaffold and works an entire seven- or eight-hour day without leaving.

The Martins decided it was important to use all local workers on the project, Natasha said. “This group of people wanted to do it right.”

“Our philosophy here is that everyone who works here works for the vision and the dream,” Mollie added. “We all believe and have a passion for it.”

And the effect is apparent on the east end.

“No one can say they can’t find us anymore,” Natasha said.

And the Martins are happy to share the credit for the outcome.

“The most credit has to go to urban renewal for believing in the project and knowing this could be a marquee for the community,” said James.

As for the silos, which remain parchment white, the Martins are drawing out the mystery.

“That’s phase two,” Mollie says with a smile.


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