Having opened its doors in 1987, The Paint Bucket is a long-established local business. People visit for premium paints and local advice on color blending in new builds, remodels and more. Even if you’ve not stepped foot through the front door, you’ve probably noticed the unique décor on the building. Since the beginning, the outside has donned murals: first of fish, then of frogs and now a new display is turning heads once again.
“It’s such a welcoming first impression. Children come by and point, people stand across the street and take pictures all the time,” said Paint Bucket owner Liz Stephenson.
Liz and husband Harold are all about inspiring people to bring creativity into their lives. While the main floor of their shop is focused on business, patrons can walk up the stairs and into a gallery of works done by the family that include photos, paintings and more. The mural and the interior displays are meant to encourage people to really think creatively with their designs and demonstrate that the Paint Bucket is always on board with unique and fun ideas.
“We just want people to know that being creative is a big deal,” said Liz. “We accept any idea that comes through the door, and anytime they have an inspiration, we are on board with them.”
After 10 years, the Stephensons decided it was time once again to update the mural, and there was only one person they thought of for the job. Maria Larson painted the previous murals, and the Stephensons have called her a friend for more than 20 years. Having moved to the area in the late ‘90s, Maria is a well-known artist in town, owning galleries in Priest Lake, the Angel Gallery in Coeur d’Alene and Gallery Northwest. She is also the person responsible for brightening up the windows of downtown businesses each year with images of the Christmas spirit.
“My first mural was at All-Seasons Garden and Nursery in Kootenai,” recalled Maria. While she was working at the business, she convinced the owners to let her paint the mural. It wasn’t long before her work was noticed and demand for her services started to come in. “I was working at the time and a customer came in asked me who painted the mural? I told them it was me, and it really grew from there,” she said.
For years Maria has painted pieces including handmade maps of Lake Pend Oreille that grace many local businesses, homes and cabins. She hadn’t painted a full-sized mural since the last one she did at The Paint Bucket 10 years ago, but when the Liz and Harold made the call, it didn’t take her long to accept.
It was decided that the mural this time around would feature native birds. Maria collaborated with the couple almost daily on the design as ideas and new inspirations continually changed the piece. It wasn’t long before the community also took notice of the new mural coming to life.
“It’s amazing, I think everybody enjoys it,” said Maria. “People were driving by honking their horns, and even teenagers and young kids would stop me to say, ‘That looks great!’”
Like almost all “construction” projects, the unveiling was a little behind schedule but not by much. Maria thought she could finish the piece in two weeks, but a spring filled with hot temperatures, strong winds and a few pouring rains pushed the completed project to five weeks and a late June debut.
As you walk or drive by now you’ll see an incredible sight, and the closer you look, the more you will find. Finches and snowy owls are found along other native species and plants set in front of sunset colors to blend with the existing exterior of The Paint Bucket. “It says a lot about Harold and Liz to invest in something like this and do something for the community to enjoy,” said Maria.
It’s the Stephensons’ hope that their new display is a catalyst for other businesses in the area to exercise their creative side. “If you are willing to be creative, you can make your everyday surroundings a great place,” said Liz. “My hope is that more businesses follow suit and realize how important it is.”
For Maria, the satisfaction of seeing another of her works on display for the community to enjoy brings great pride. The “good jobs” from so many people while she worked brings her great joy, especially from those she didn’t see coming.
“One day a guy drove by in a huge truck, huge tires, very masculine. He stopped in the middle of the street and said to me, ‘Wow. That is so beautiful.’”
For any artist, having your work impact someone is the primary goal. For Maria, she especially enjoys when people get the concept she is working on but is very much OK if people don’t like it as well, as long as she has stirred their emotions, she has made her impact. “Even if they don’t like it, at least I’ve evoked an emotion. I’d rather they hate it than not notice it at all,” she said.
As summer ends, winter will be around soon enough, and as you walk the streets of downtown you might see Maria working her magic on the storefront windows. Take a moment to let the artwork inspire you and be thankful there are people who continue to make Sandpoint a beautiful and inspirational place to call home.