Enigmatic messages on utility poles and boarded-up storefronts. Here’s what we found out about who and why

By Christopher Boffoli
Special to West Seattle Blog

When one considers how important utility poles are to modern life, we really don’t give them much thought, until a driver plows into one of them and the lights go out. Nearly 100,000 poles stand around the city, carrying power, communication, and providing light to streets. When I was a kid we simply called them “telephone poles” for the landlines they carried. These days they’re much more likely to be strung with fiber-optic cables than the twisted copper of old. However, while most everything at the top of the pole has gone digital, the communication at the lower reaches of these tall, straight wooden posts remains refreshingly analog.

(Photos by Christopher Boffoli unless otherwise credited)

Walk up to any utility pole along West Seattle’s main arterials and you’ll likely find a pincushion of metal staples, nails, and tacks, the remnants of decades of informal, community advertising. Beneath official street signs that direct (or restrict), you might find yard sale posters, lost pet fliers, color photocopies advertising a random assortment of services – from tango lessons to gutter cleaning – and maybe stickers that still remind us that Andre the Giant had a posse. It was also on a utility pole, in the 3400 block of California Avenue SW, that I first encountered a series of enigmatic posters that, while aesthetically executed, left me with so many questions about their meaning and origin.

The first one I noticed could have been a one-off for all I knew; three pieces of white paper with a simple but distinctive red block typeface, which began faded but grew darker as the text descended: “WE ARE LOST STILL WE ARE DEVOTED”

It was restrained in its presentation. Even the punctuation was omitted. The few random words barely comprised a thought. It was not at all provocative, though it did compel my interest. In the days and weeks that followed, as I walked past the pole while running errands, I found myself looking forward to what new piece might be posted there, eager to see if more of the story would be revealed. I was disheartened whenever I would see that the posters had been ripped to shreds, but then was always buoyed by every new installation, which happened with impressive frequency. The forces of destruction were doing their best, but creativity was winning.

The writer in me wondered if there was an overarching story, as a narrative purpose is generally a pretext for art.

Maybe I’d need to follow along for a while to parse out a meaning. However, what I saw over time seemed more as merely possessing the elements of a potential narrative while each new poster offered no more context than the last. At the very least I was excited by their whimsy and the energy that they brought to that part of the street. I also respected the work ethic that went into continually creating something colorful and vaguely clever that most passersby likely didn’t notice.

I was never able to catch the artist at work. And none of the posters bore any signatures or names, which was a surprise, as one would think that someone working with such consistency would want at least some recognition. Even in his earliest days as a low-key street artist in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat would at least sign his pieces with a SAMO crown. When I mentioned the posters to a few friends and neighbors in passing, no one seemed to know what I was talking about. I even sent emails to a few of the businesses that were in close proximity to the pole, hoping maybe someone had seen the artist. But no one took the trouble to reply.

From there the mystery extended from weeks to years. At some point I began to notice larger installations across the street on an old sign at the long abandoned medical clinic building at the corner of California and Hinds. And then on that building’s south side as well. Those were a much more colorful combination of Wes Anderson pastels, but the blocky stenciled text and whimsical fragments were unmistakable. Whereas that building and its garage had suffered from serious neglect and had been excessively vandalized and graffitied, the sign installations somehow remained mostly untouched by taggers, only being altered when the artist would paint out these pieces with evolving designs. Week after week I’d see their form change, with little hints of the previous design sometimes retained underneath, adding beguiling textures. Some of the text referenced a place called Bear Island, with fragments of conversation between dragonflies and rabbits, blossoms and bees, a noble duck, a fox army, and a moss herder (whatever that was). This proto-narrative seemed to get even more eccentric over time, like fragments of a storybook known only to the artist.

One day on Reddit, after three years of following the work, I caught a break. Someone posted a picture, on the West Seattle subreddit, of a stenciled sign in the same unmistakable colors and typeface. There again was a reference to “This Bear Island” on a utility pole in Morgan Junction. It was the first hint I had that this was part of a wider effort. Now that there was something online, people were joining the conversation, adding that they too were wondering what this work was all about and also were curious about who was behind it. Despite not offering any answers, at least there were others who could legitimize my curiosity. I also now understood that the reach of the work was broader.

I decided to take a look around to see if I could find some more of the work. So one afternoon I started up around California Ave. SW and SW Hill Street and walked south to Alaska Junction, taking careful note of all of the utility poles that I had thoughtlessly driven past perhaps hundreds of times over the years. Sure enough, I could now see that the work of this artist was everywhere. I was struck by how much of the world exists only in our peripheral vision unless we really slow down and see something, as opposed to just looking. Not only did I find a volume of unseen work on poles, but there were installations on traffic switch boxes, low walls, and some boarded-up storefronts.

I went back and posted some new photographs on the Reddit thread. And several days later someone actually came forward offering to put me in touch with the artist, whose name I learned for the first time was Mike Henderson. But they wanted to check with him first to make sure it was OK. Shortly after that, I was finally able to connect with the artist by text. We set up a meeting, though I was uncertain if it was intended to discuss whether he was willing to talk, or if it would be my opportunity to conduct the actual interview. Guerrilla street artists by nature seem to sometimes work independently of permission and laws and I wondered if the lack of signatures on this artist’s work meant that they were trying to keep a lower profile.

Some cursory research turned up a couple of stories about Henderson, a couple related to his contribution of a mosaic turret on the castle in the play area at Roxhill Park, and another about a controversial art installation in the backyard of his house near Charlestown. But there wasn’t much more online.

Some weeks later we eventually met on a sunny spring morning at a corner of Hiawatha Playfield. Pushing a ten-speed, wearing an orange knit cap and paint-spattered clothing, Henderson had an immediately disarming manner, and he certainly did not convey the demeanor of a subversive artist who was accustomed to battling municipalities for the sake of art. He was warm, soft spoken, and seemed excited to talk about his work, which he told me he often refers to, when speaking to friends, as “Propaganda.” I thought this seemed a somewhat incongruous title given the lack of boldness in the storybook content. And it seemed his unwillingness to sign his pieces was less about secrecy and more about humility. “I look at this art project as building social infrastructure,” said Henderson. “It feels like we’re all so hungry and desperate to connect. So I came to this work from an idea of sharing something in a public space.”

We decided to walk down California, looking at various installations while we discussed what was behind it. I learned that he had grown up on a farm outside of Fargo, North Dakota. He said that no one in his family was exceptionally creative. And while he played sports and dabbled in theater at school, he never studied art or attended art school. Though he did suggest that there was creative inspiration to be found in the kind of activity that goes on at a working farm: “…the way that things are made and repaired with a certain degree of self-sufficiency.”

In the news stories I encountered in my research, I had seen Henderson ascribed to a number of roles: artist, architect, sculptor, landscape designer. But he didn’t seem particularly eager to so readily attach himself to any of those labels, though he did say that he had worked as an architect.

When people first hear the word “architect” they’re probably likely to think of professionals who design buildings and houses. But architects essentially are designers of spaces for people, and they tend to expend a great deal of time and thought with how people interact with, move through, and inhabit spaces. Henderson said that with these installations, he likes to find street-facing spaces in the community that are neglected, and that are often covered in graffiti. He sees the act of hanging signs or painting to be “taking it over and caring for it, giving it attention and putting care back into it.” With his art installations, Henderson has taken on the role of a designer of forgotten and overlooked spaces.

Because I had been so curious about it for so long, I almost immediately asked Henderson if everything I had seen was part of a larger narrative and how much planning goes into the text. “The intention is not so much about meaning,” he said, “but is more about a feeling. It’s intended to be whimsical but not narrative. Maybe exploring a space between emotions. Getting it out of my unconscious.”

As I pressed him on the meaning of his text, Henderson didn’t really have an answer for what a moss herder is. Though I did manage to decode a bit of meaning in the signs that refer to “This Bear Island” – Henderson said this reference was inspired by Me-Kwa-Mooks, or “shaped like a bear’s head,” the Duwamish reference for the West Seattle peninsula.

And while he meticulously hand-cuts the stencils for his signs in advance, he told me that around 90% of the time he prefers spontaneity over advance planning. “I find that if I try to figure everything out in advance, that I never begin. Sometime you have to just put it up and figure out what it is.” He added, “I’ll put something up and then come back and look at it, figure out what it is about. It’s not planned.” This is the process that he constantly refers to as “turning.”

When Henderson talks about installing the work, it is not in the manner of a stealthy street artist, lurking under cover of night. He said he works mostly during the day. Despite this, he insists that he’s not harassed very much, though he did say that there have been times when certain security guards have gotten “shouty.” He added that he will often seek permission from owners but that Swedish (renovating 3400 California SW), for instance, never responded to him. “Local business owners have been more friendly,” he said, and that he prefers to be as courteous as possible in his approach.

When I asked him about tagging and graffiti and how that’s different from what he’s doing, Henderson explained that he thinks that tagging is “often about young people making a mark … wanting to feel that energy and the risk of doing something dangerous.” He said he thinks that tags are mostly just names and identities. “There is no continuity to it. That’s not what I’m doing.”

Henderson said he is actively “turning” about six spots. But there are probably about fifteen more throughout West Seattle, mostly along California Ave. SW but also in a couple of other places. He claims he has “soft permission” in some spots. And that he had an arrangement for a while with one business’s owners and maybe did about ten different iterations on their iconic signage, but then had to stop because they apparently had a complaint from someone who thought some of the text was political. “It wasn’t,” Henderson said, “it was just so painted over and layered that at a certain point it was like a Rorschach test.” He asserts that he is quite apolitical. “I’m so indifferent to political parties and the current stuff going on,” he added. “What I enjoy about collaborating on making things is that you can be creative and make connections away from the frenzy of politics.”

(Courtesy of Mike Henderson)

Henderson said that he has been installing this art for about seven or eight years. “I find the process of doing this so healthy and positive for me… to be out painting and to keep coming back to the same locations to bring new air to them. It’s about showing up, making a mark, holding space,” he added.

Sometimes when he’s out painting, Henderson said that people will come up and express admiration for what he’s doing. But they’ll also sometimes warily ask whether he had to get permission or a permit to paint. “People sometimes think what I’m doing is much scarier than it really is,” he said. “We are sometimes so disempowered as people living in a community, following the rules.”

(Courtesy of Mike Henderson)

While it seems that installing and maintaining his street art locations is a fairly solitary task, Henderson grew more animated when he talked about meeting like-minded people who understood that what he’s doing is “on his own back” and with his own time and money. And he spoke passionately about painting collaborations he has done, not only with other artists but with other local volunteers, which he sees as an easy entry into building community connections and that repeatedly returned him to what he said is his desire to build “social infrastructure.”

“It’s all about preparing the soil and getting it ready to grow. There is no more beautiful way to connect than working beside someone on the same task. When your hands are busy the anxiety fades about what you need to talk about,” he said, adding “If your tail is wagging, your paws can’t be dug in.”

“Mike’s enthusiasm about meeting anybody, taking to anybody at any time, about anything, is very nice,” said Anne Van Dyne, a retired architect who lives in the Admiral District. A resident of Seattle since 1970, Van Dyne has recently been working with Henderson on a number of planned projects, including some grants through the Department of Neighborhoods that they hope will bring people together, via artist workshops, and other initiatives involving music and dance. “We’re still developing the ideas, “ she said, “But I think it is important, particularly as people age to maintain social contacts. As you get older it gets harder to develop and maintain contacts with people of a variety of ages and different kinds of people.”

She added, “Mike has a lot of really good ideas about how to develop community. I think of [social infrastructure] very simply as kind of what it would mean to live in a village, in which people knew each other more and participated in more things together.”

(Courtesy of Mike Henderson)

“Mike is a natural talent, the real deal,” said Christine Sajecki, a Virginia-based artist who has collaborated with Henderson on a number of projects, including an upcoming children’s book. “He is so pure in his practice and his ideas. For him it’s about pure art and communication. He does it to do it.” Sajecki said she was aware of Henderson’s work on the ongoing street art project he calls “Propaganda”. She added, “I love his turns of phrase and his way of considering a story. But it’s also ambiguous. I can’t always tell what side he’s on.” Sajecki said that she admires Henderson’s work ethic and the way he is constantly “turning” his installations. “It’s generous,” she said, “as it gives people something to look forward to. It flips the world a little bit.”

My walkabout with Henderson concluded in the backyard of his house on a quiet street just a couple of blocks south of Madison Middle School. Though the residence didn’t stand out from the others around it, hints of who lived there began to emerge as we made our up the driveway and along a sidewalk towards the backyard. Various discarded signs in that familiar painted blocky stencil were further evidence that I had indeed finally found the source of my long inquiry. One sign read simply “SOIL.” And another that read “So Glad You’re Here” apparently had recently been installed somewhere in view of drivers entering West Seattle along Fauntleroy. I noticed that there were even tiny bits of text unassumingly positioned on various clapboards on the back of the house. For Henderson, words and fragments of ideas always seem be fluttering around like silvery moths.

The backyard of Henderson’s house was unlike anything I had seen in a residential neighborhood. The space barely contained the remnants of the elaborate environment called “Underwater Aviary,” the rise and fall of which was covered extensively in the Seattle Weekly eight years ago. Essentially, Henderson was inspired to build a massive installation of concrete, rebar, steel mesh and mosaic tiles, the scale of which drew the ire of neighbors and eventually City of Seattle inspectors who cited him for code violations. Even in its neutered state, the remnants of the project are impressively ambitious, at once referencing Gaudi and Gehry.

Henderson speaks of it now with a certain tone of disappointment and wistfulness in his voice, though admirably without much bitterness. In the same manner that I observed his paper signs being aggressively torn and strewn on the sidewalk, Henderson perhaps has learned, as many artists do, that creating art can sometimes be a war of attrition, and one must find the stamina to resist the forces that routinely come to subvert you.

As Henderson showed me around what remains of his backyard dream, he pointed out a number of characters integrated into the design: an octopus, a sperm whale, a lobster. I didn’t hear mention of the moss herder, but there seemed to be a common threads embroidered in all of his works. “There are maybe connections between the characters,” he said, “They live in the same world. Some are combinations of people in my life.”

He spoke of the amended project with a level of energy that suggested that he sees it as still full of possibility despite the significant edits that he was compelled to make in order to be in compliance with city codes. He points out an area of rebar that will eventually be a water feature. As we talked, a steady stream of friends and collaborators casually came down the walkway into the space to check in with him about various things and then departed. It seemed like a regular occurrence.

Henderson was generous with his time and the hour I had allocated to meet and speak with him unexpectedly became two. We sat on a high deck at the back of his property, buttressed by the remnants of the Underwater Aviary, atop a sturdy metal structure with a view of the cobalt blue water of Puget Sound in the distance. The staircases and railings of the construction below us enclosed sections of colorful recycled crushed glass, and the steel had been left to develop a deliberate patina of rust. When I asked Henderson about where he acquired the skills and expertise to weld and fabricate all of that steel – suggesting that perhaps it was more evidence of the maker spirit he experienced from farm life in his youth – he waved away the notion, insisting, “You’d be surprised at how much you can really learn just by picking up tools and doing something.”

(Courtesy of Mike Henderson)

When I asked Henderson what’s next for “Propaganda,” he showed me some images of some of the newer designs he’s been working on. In addition to the text and graphic elements of the work, the installations are expanding graphically with more character animals. Henderson told me that he is using an AI image generator to create the images, like a recent installation with a sloth holding a bouquet of flowers. Once the images are rendered he uses a piece of software to tile them so he can print large format images into sections which get wheat pasted into place before the designs are augmented with stenciled words and paint.

(Courtesy of Mike Henderson)

As much as Henderson repeatedly came back to the idea his primary objective was to build community connections through his street art, he was also very candid about how therapeutic the ritual of “turning” was to his own mental health. In his interviews about the turbulent battles surrounding the Underwater Aviary, he was forthcoming about how that project came out of the pain of the end of his marriage. And then, it seems that “Propaganda” had its genesis in the wake of the storm of his contention with city officials. It seems that Henderson has found a conduit by which he can metabolize painful experiences, using his own creativity to run the roadblocks that he comes up against. “Maybe it is benefitting me more than the observer,” he conceded. “Turning is the most important thing.”

65 Replies to "Enigmatic messages on utility poles and boarded-up storefronts. Here's what we found out about who and why"

  • McD July 5, 2024 (8:07 pm)

    I love his work and have been so curious about the creator! Thank you so much for sharing your creative soul…and I look forward too more!

  • Katy July 5, 2024 (8:26 pm)

    Incredible story! Thank you so much for this, Christopher Boffoli and WSB!

  • LAintheJunction July 5, 2024 (8:26 pm)

    I love seeing Mike’s art around the Alaska Junction and beyond. I walk a lot in the area so it’s been great seeing it grow and change over the years. A little bit of mystery is good for us, I’ve liked the cryptic prose and curious graphics. Mike, thanks for brightening our days and the neighborhood – hopefully someday I’ll see you out painting and can tell you in person!

  • valvashon July 5, 2024 (8:38 pm)

    I’ve been taking pictures of Mike’s work for a long time.  Coincidentally, I’m also from Fargo.  This is from April of 2021:

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:00 pm)

      oh man!  thanks for sending that in!  That sign was the first.  Covered in sad tags and just sat.  april 2021.  Was that early covid?  That was a special sign.  So much drama there with hitting tagged.  Someone even pulled it out of the ground twice.  Second time pulled it into the parking lot and pulled it apart.  Ha!  So curious.  It had a garden on it when it was pulled.  Nice sign.  i would love to see more photos from that sign.  That first sign was such a good one.  I did a lot of collaboration then.  Most of the signs where either with Carinn Michele or Amber Hanson.  The robin above is Carinn.  It was so great.  I would ask for an animal or idea and they would paint it and then I would fall in love with it and add text.  I’m really glad you like it.  It was really a special sign for me. 

  • valvashon July 5, 2024 (8:52 pm)

    Another one that’s probably Mike’s- October 2020.  Utility pole at 45th SW and Stevens SW.

  • Jsbm July 5, 2024 (8:59 pm)

    I’m so thrilled about this article, both the subject as well as the care and effort put into it. I have loved Mr. Hendersons art as I’ve seen it installed and then reiterated, but never knew who did it. I saw him and an assistant at the prior Rush Hour location, turning a piece. Learning about who is providing this public service that our community benefits from is such a treat. Mr. Henderson, I’ve truly appreciated your contribution to make my neighborhood a more colorful, beautiful place to live. 

  • valvashon July 5, 2024 (9:04 pm)

    Another set, outside of Junction Post Office, March 2021.

    • Christopher Boffoli July 5, 2024 (9:40 pm)

      Val: You’ve got some great finds there. I’m envious. I’ve been building my own collection for a few years now and hadn’t seen any of those. Good eye!

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:08 pm)

      Oh!  like seeing an old friend!  Thanks for catching that. 

  • Jikan July 5, 2024 (9:46 pm)

    Thank you for this article! and deep gratitude to Mike Henderson for this public visual/verbal haiku offering to enrich our lives.

  • Greg July 5, 2024 (9:55 pm)

    Excellent story.  Well done.

  • Admiralian July 5, 2024 (9:59 pm)

    Beautifully reported and written piece, Christopher, thank you. And thank you, Mike, your art reflects the spirit we love about WS.

  • kmelton July 5, 2024 (10:19 pm)

    Beautiful, inspiring and grateful! What a treat, to discover this right before bedtime :) Thank you all who contributed!

  • Marina July 5, 2024 (10:52 pm)

    Don’t forget about the puppet shows Mike did at the Beebop Waffle Shop (then Admiral Bird) and the Admiral Theater! 

    • Christopher Boffoli July 6, 2024 (10:02 am)

      @Marina: Thank you for mentioning that. Though I didn’t include it in the story, Ms. Van Dyne did mention that some of the grants they are seeking may provide for more puppet shows in the future.

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:10 pm)

      Marina!  Hey Comrade!  Tip, tip, i think it’s going to rain.  Ha!

  • Rlv July 5, 2024 (11:10 pm)

    Thank you SO much for this story! I’ve enjoyed finding these works during my walks and drives around West Seattle for the past several years, and it’s wonderful to know a bit about the inspiration behind them. 

  • Nora July 6, 2024 (2:55 am)

    Great Story. I am glad to learn of the person and intent behind the gentrified graffiti that plague West Seattle’s walls, utility poles, etc. I beg Mike to learn or recall the origins of the street art medium (though you can hardly call his transgressions as such), particularly 1970’s NYC. Without primarily Black and Brown artists intricately painting their “names and identities with no continuity” onto subway cars and empty concrete expanses, it’s hard to imagine Mike having felt the notion to deface common spaces in our communities. The cherry on top (which truly made me chuckle through gritted teeth) was the use of generative AI , notorious for stealing others’ art , in some of his pieces. Graffiti and Tagging are cornerstones of the medium. Not this whitewashed drivel.

    on the other hand, perhaps his work is emblematic of where it comes from.

    • mike henderson July 12, 2024 (10:47 am)

      Nora.  I assure you it is not as serious as that.  Just enjoy.  Come say hello if you see me painting.

  • James July 6, 2024 (6:50 am)

    This was exceptionally wonderful to read with my morning coffee.

  • Mary Heuman July 6, 2024 (7:16 am)

    Thank you for satisfying my curiosity about this wonderful imaginative  artist. We’re really lucky to have such talent here in WS, thank you for introducing us to Mike. 5hank you, Mike, for making our neighborhood a more beautiful place to be.

  • Meeee July 6, 2024 (7:23 am)

    I hope he realizes how much joy his work gives those of us who stumble upon his work.I’ve been happily surprised by new finds of his art when I’m on my walks.

    • Gina July 6, 2024 (7:58 am)

      I appreciate the subtle positive messages and color, so much color. 

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:17 pm)

      MEEEE! Thanks, comarde.

  • Steve July 6, 2024 (7:24 am)

    I just want to join the chorus of appreciation to Mike Henderson for his contributions to our community, to Christopher Boffoli for so painstakingly noticing and documenting this work and to the West Seattle Blog for sharing all this with the rest of us. Thanks so much.

  • LawnOrder July 6, 2024 (7:31 am)

    This is a great, great article. I’ve appreciated Chris’ art, as well as his craft in writing for years; and now he passes along a piece on another artist in Mike. Thank you both for your contribution to the lives of everyone you touch. 

  • Thank you July 6, 2024 (7:46 am)

    Inspiring, thank you for the excellent long format article. We are lucky to have such a brave artistic treasure in our community.

  • HTB July 6, 2024 (8:07 am)

    Graffiti has been a black eye for the city since Covid. It’s out of control. I have to say I find it irresponsible on the part of the West Seattle Blog to justify and sanitize it.

  • Sillygoose July 6, 2024 (8:35 am)

    Thrilled to read this story. I’ve been very curious myself over the years as I’ve watched the various messages come and go. ” BEAR ISLAND” gave me a chuckle every morning on my way to work! Thank You 

  • Spencer July 6, 2024 (8:35 am)

    Yeah this story was rad, WSB. I really hope yall have the chance to feature long form narrative content like this more often! I THIRST for more local voices from both sides of the mic, journalists and community members alike. Heck, even I’d consider writing an article if I better understood how this blog accepts submissions. Point is I want to see journalistic talent cultivated and celebrated at WSB!

  • Lynda July 6, 2024 (8:48 am)

    Thanks so much for this great article!  I’ve been wondering about this cool art for a while.  It’s great to live somewhere where we have both interesting artists and investigative local journalists!  :)

  • Brynn July 6, 2024 (9:25 am)

    We were super lucky to have the telephone pole right in front of our house selected as a location for some of his work for a summer. I loved waking up and finding the new messages. Just like you are saying, it was this felt sense of community bringing WS together. Since then I have enjoyed seeing his work around town. Every time is see something new I can’t help but smile. Thank you Mike for brightening up our corner of the world with your art. And thank you to Christopher for the wonderful article. 

  • Art Walk July 6, 2024 (9:27 am)

    Mike is going to be displaying his art and present for Art Walk at West Seattle Realty in August! 

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:37 pm)

      Yes!  It will be mostly the work of my friend Charlie Harries.  He will be turning 75 in August so it will be an art walk birthday party!  Charlie is such a kind and wonder filled soul.  You will be very glad to have seen his work.  Charlie and I will also be doing some sort of collaborate something.  Fun! 

  • ACG July 6, 2024 (9:40 am)

    Thank you for the article!  A couple times I’ve been lucky enough to be enjoying coffee at Lula (across the street from the old Rush Hour storefront) and have been able to watch him turn over that large installation. I’ve always wondered if it was commissioned by the building owner or just guerrilla art!  Every time I get coffee at Lula it’s fun to see if the message has changed!  

  • Gr33nHouse July 6, 2024 (9:44 am)

    What a great way to start the day! Mike, thank you for helping to create a sense of community – your art always lifts my spirits :) Thanks for sharing the story.

  • Marco Behar July 6, 2024 (9:47 am)

    Thanks for bringing clarity to Mikes joyful art that is part of the west Seattle community! His art are like flowers that show up in unexpected places 😊

  • Person July 6, 2024 (9:57 am)

    Absolutely love this art, thank you for doing the article! I met this guy, so glad you are helping West Seattle keep its vibe.

  • Nadmiral July 6, 2024 (10:26 am)

    I definitely disagree:  go ahead and put the ‘art’ on some thing that can go on someone’s wall instead of splattering our neighborhood with it. I do appreciate where he put it on the old Swedish building on California Ave. 

  • Derrick July 6, 2024 (10:45 am)

    I love the long form story here! Maybe a post inviting ideas for future longer pieces? Id love to hear what other people’s ideas are for stories about our area.     

  • Robyn July 6, 2024 (11:05 am)

    I really loved this very short lived piece on the California St wall of the 711 last July. 

  • DaveB July 6, 2024 (11:49 am)

    Speaking of art, the photo at the top of the article is wonderful. 

  • Local July 6, 2024 (11:52 am)

    Awesome article. I love the length, detail and insights. Mike’s art is incredible, thought provoking and makes me feel things. Thank you Mike and WSB! 

  • NATURE! July 6, 2024 (12:16 pm)

    So happy to read this and learn more about Mike’s whimsical art. Thank you for the bunnies!

  • Zac C July 6, 2024 (12:24 pm)

    Thank you WSB for uncovering this mystery. This made my weekend. Truly love this man’s work, creativity, dedication and the business and property owners letting him express himself.  It is making our hood much better place given some of the distressed storefronts. Is there any way to reward him for his service (i.e Venmo)?

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:48 pm)

      Thanks Zac!  Stop into Sebastianos natural wine bar through July and August. I will be putting a group make together.  There will also be a kids book for sale and a print for sale that will change weekly.  Also a venmo there to donate.  Word!

  • E July 6, 2024 (12:36 pm)

    Thanks for the article, I was wondering if I would ever find out who was doing this art. I think the first time I noticed his art was late 2022 on utility poles at Fauntleroy and Alaska where it looked like he put words on huge papers and wrapped them on the poles. I always love to see the changes on the wall by the 76 at Andover and the little sign by the bus stop at Spokane when I’m riding the bus along California. 

  • 102sean July 6, 2024 (3:37 pm)

    Thank you for the wonderfully written piece and for Mike’s contribution to our community. 

  • christine sajecki July 7, 2024 (10:29 am)

    it’s wonderful to read this and see all this support for mike’s work! i love hearing these perspectives and seeing the pictures together, what a sparkling collection. fellow fans of mike, you might be delighted to know that his (and my) kids book about rocks is now available! link below, or you can get it locally at Third Place Books, Asterism, or by crashing into Mike himself. he’s great to work with, if you ever have the chance, really beautiful things happen, i highly recommend :) Rocks: What Are They Doing (he’s writing under the name Michael Make) 

    • mike henderson July 12, 2024 (10:22 am)

      Oh Sajecki!  What a wonderful human.  Wildly creative, so kind, and determined to do good.  She works mostly with encaustics, which is pigmented molten wax.  I have been so fortunate to spend a lot of time with her in her studio, watching her paint.  Scraping and torching and adding and subtracting.  She is a wonder and she creates from such a powerful and vulnerable place.  Laughing with her are the highlights of life.  Want to vomit with happiness?  Take a look at her work.

  • Future Heather July 7, 2024 (10:50 pm)

    Thank you for this thoughtful article of such a vibrant person, joyfully stirring the waters. I’m so delighted to have Mike in West Seattle. 

    • mike henderson July 9, 2024 (11:51 pm)

      Oh!  That one had a special energy for me.  Thank you for sharing that. 

  • JB July 8, 2024 (12:11 am)

    Love when I pass one of his signs! I stopped to chat with him once when he was working on one by my apartment – great guy. I hope he knows there are many in the community who appreciate the art and messages he’s putting out there.

  • R July 8, 2024 (12:04 pm)

    thank you Mike for your art! I love finding a new piece.

  • Katherine July 9, 2024 (5:01 pm)
    Thank you so much for clearing up that mystery for me. Now, can you tell me where these mobiles that are hanging around town come from or are credited to? This one is across the street from the Jiffy Lube on Alaska in West Seattle. There is another one on California Avenue by courtesy tire. I believe I saw one on Beacon Hill before too.
    • WS Res July 9, 2024 (6:30 pm)

      The dragons? You can get more info here

  • Gina July 9, 2024 (5:55 pm)

    Whatever happened to the Groucho dogs that were visible eastbound on the bridge back in the oughts?

  • allllrworthy July 10, 2024 (7:35 pm)

    Favorite sighting was EYES CLOSED SUN SO CLOSE near WSHS. Got painted over in blink of an eye. What came next was brilliant ;)

  • mike henderson July 12, 2024 (10:41 am)

    Thank you Christopher for the conversations with him and the thoughtful article.  Not only is Christopher a great writer but a joyful visual artistCouple credits to add:  The photo of “PROM” was taken by my friend Alyse Schrecongost and my painting collaborators were Alyse’s kiddos Helen and Frankie (who also worked on RAIN KiTE) and Simone and Margot.   So much fun working with kids.  Fearless Artists.   The photo of me in orange suspenders was taking by Erik Bell who runs the wonderful volunteer group at byandby.org that keeps WS looking so lovely.  Here is a collaboration we did together.  Erik is awesome.

  • mike henderson July 12, 2024 (10:52 am)

    Also!  Wanted to add that I will be at Sebastiano’s Wednesdays from 4-8 in July and August.  Each week will be an easy and fun group activity to create things to put up to help the neighborhood dance through the summer.  Viva!

  • Margit Harvey July 13, 2024 (2:35 pm)

    I’m so happy to read this article about you, Mike. My father (also named Mike) passed away a year ago in June and the last video I made of him was in his garden. He was holding one of his favourite red roses. He was from Hungary, so I asked him to say something in Hungarian. He said, Nice Day. It was a very nice day indeed. A week after he passed, you had painted NICE DAY on the wall at 7-11 on California and Erskine. I wanted to take a photo of this, but it had been painted over by the time I remembered to take a photo. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for that, and for all of your wonderful artwork. Jó estét (have a good day).

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