Visual arts

Sunflowers surge as Nye Beach Banner Project embraces solidarity with Ukraine

Jill Pridgeon says the banner project reminded her of photos of hippies putting flowers down the barrels of National Guard rifles at Kent State, an image echoed in her banner.

In the 14 seasons banners flew from lampposts from Nye Beach to Newport, themes have included the 2017 eclipse, safety, diversity and COVID. This year’s harvest takes on a global dimension with sunflowers and blue skies – long-distance prayers for peace in Ukraine.

“The artists loved the idea of ​​the sunflower,” said Veronica Lundell, founder of the banner project. “Sunflowers symbolize happiness, optimism, honesty, longevity, peace, admiration and devotion. They literally look on the bright side. People recognize it as very representative of Ukraine.

In the past, Jill Pridgeon’s banners have popped up with cheerful images in red – a dog on the beach with a flying disc, a lady jumping in a storm, a girl drifting in a sea of ​​kelpy. This year, it’s a woman wearing a babushka, sunflowers in her hand, and behind her, at the edge of a field of flowers, a young girl planting a sunflower in the barrel of a tank. Pridgeon was inspired by memories of the Vietnam War protests.

“That was the first thing that came to me,” Pridgeon said. “We grew up around a horrible war. The boys who came back were so damaged, and I think of all those Russian boys who were pushed into war and who will return to their families and communities just destroyed. There’s so much drama for Russian soldiers…even if they do shitty stuff. There is no dressing for this type of injury.

The Ukrainian theme also evoked dark memories for local artist and former Newport mayor Sandy Roumagoux.

“My banner this year,” says Sandy Roumagoux, “is to honor the bravery of the Ukrainian people in their struggle for democracy.”

“It’s deja vu again with the Hungarian revolution,” she said, referring to the 1956 uprising that saw thousands of Hungarians killed by the Russians. “It seems so despondent. It was such a despicable sneak attack. It happened to people. I know it sure made me feel good. That’s why I made the banner.

Its banner features a sunflower over a blue and yellow heart with the word “peace” underneath; the reverse shows a vase of flowers. It was a different approach for Roumagoux, who said, “I’ve never painted a heart in my life,” and who generally takes the subject and the inspiration, and lets the art go where it pleases. But in this case, she decided to stick to the symbols of Ukraine.

“It’s powerful in color…you can’t beat blue and yellow together on the color wheel,” she said. “I feel like people just can’t stand one more thing. Give us a break. Let’s look at something that honors something, but it doesn’t have to show the knife in the body. So that’s what I did. I felt good there. I felt hope.

This is the third year that Sister City of Newport, Mombetsu, Japan has participated in the banner project. Each year, Newport sends eight blank canvases to the city; Mombetsu returns four completed. Newport is also gifting the town with a favorite banner from a Newport artist.

Mombetsu High Art Club presented a banner with a basket of sunflowers on one side and a sunset over Nye Beach on the other.
Mombetsu High Art Club presented a banner with a basket of sunflowers on one side and a sunset over Nye Beach on the other.

The sister city also adopted the Ukraine theme, with sunflowers in each of the four upturned banners. At a long-distance summer meeting, it was the first thing Mombetsu officials wanted to talk about, said Peggy Hawker, Newport’s city clerk.

“They started by talking about their concern about the situation in Ukraine,” Hawker said. “They have a sister city in Russia. They are sad.”

The banner project, which includes 61 banners — about half of which are Ukraine-themed — is a fundraiser for the youth art programs of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts. To date, the banner auction has raised approximately $100,000 for the cause. This year’s virtual auction kicks off with a party on Nov. 5 at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Auctions run until November 13.

Each year, the project also publishes a booklet with photos of each banner. This year’s booklet is accompanied by a letter from Kostiantyn Ulianenko, a Ukrainian migrant worker who worked on Newport’s waterfront during the 2019 seafood processing season. He wrote in 2020, just a year before Russia invaded Ukraine:

… Newport is more than memories of hard and exhausting work in one of the most amazing parts of the world. It is a city of happiness and peace, of comfort and harmony, of rhyme and sanity, of peace and tranquillity, of human hopes and dreams… For me, Newport is a page turned at the hand of the book titled Life…the Pacific Ocean, Newport, Oregon and the people who live there are forever in my heart.


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The brochure notes that the 2022 banners reflect all of these sentiments and reflect solidarity with Ukraine. “Kostiantyn, wherever you are,” it read, “our hearts are with you and your nation.”