Look around, and you’ll find vibrant colors and bold line work climbing the walls of buildings, alleys, and businesses around town, like at Ciao Thyme, Horseshoe Cafe, and Pure Bliss Desserts. The creative mind behind many of Bellingham’s public masterpieces is visual artist Gretchen Leggitt.
Originally from Colorado, Leggitt frequented Lopez Island with her family as a child. After earning a fine arts degree from Colorado State University, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest assuming she’d return to Colorado after her six months of student teaching.
“My mom has always had a huge crush on the Pacific Northwest,” Leggitt says. “It was just such a mystical environment coming from high plains desert to this completely majestic land of ferns and gigantic banana slugs.”
After 16 years, she’s here to stay in the place that is now home to much of her portfolio. Fascinated by towering mountains, energetic shores, and diverse wildlife, Leggitt’s work reflects her passion for the outdoors.
“I find my utmost amount of peace while I’m outside… It’s really where I’m at my finest,” Leggitt says. “The fluidity of a lot of the curved lines I use are emulating the movements that I experience while mountain biking and snowboarding.”
Leggitt’s mural outside the Kona Bike Shop, called Astro Whip, depicts her signature line work and gives her special joy. The idea was one she’d long dreamed of: An intricate mountainscape featuring an astronaut whipping a bicycle down a winding path.
“That was definitely my passion mural…had zero influence [from] the clients,” Leggitt says.
In 2018, she was asked to create Washington state’s largest mural in partnership with Puget Sound Energy’s ARTility initiative. The project transformed ordinary infrastructures and utility boxes into community art that reflect the company’s renewable energy mission.
“I was wildly intimidated by that project and wanted nothing to do with it,” she admits, having done only two smaller murals by that point.
Leggitt reached out to Max McNett, an experienced muralist from Skagit Valley, who encouraged her to take on the challenge and guided her throughout the journey. The pair jumped in and completed the 21,800 square foot rendition of the North Cascades mountain range in just 30 days.
“I learned anything and everything there is to know about putting up a mural,” Leggitt says. “It was truly a gift to work with [McNett] and for him to really be a mentor on my own project.”
Between long paint sessions, Leggitt created Hydrascape Infinity Stickers with local Sunnyland business, Stickers for Days. Her unique product design was launched later that year and is now available in REI stores across the U.S. and shipping worldwide.
For Leggitt, stepping back and taking in a completed piece never ceases to surprise her. But one of her greatest joys is receiving feedback from community members who interact with her work on a daily basis.
“I have people who write to me often on social media just thanking me,” Leggitt says. “That’s an experience that I have never received in my art career, just this appreciation for creating positive transformation in the world — I can’t think of anything better on this earth to do.”
Leggitt’s art prints, gear, and Hydrascape Infinity Stickers are available for purchase via her website, gretchenleggitt.com.