Arts & Life
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When it rains, it appears: Seattle art that appears in wet weather

On a damp December afternoon, a half dozen people huddle outside the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. They’re smoking cigarettes, cracking jokes and trying to stay dry.

Around the corner, on the building’s south wall, rain drips onto an 8-by-8 foot wooden panel; as the panel soaks in the moisture, it reveals an image of a Jesus-like figure, his arms extended.

The mural is one of three that the gospel mission has installed temporarily in outdoor locations around Seattle, part of an art installation called “Lost and Found.” The murals were created by Seattle artist Ariel Parrow, based on photographer Lee Jeffries’ portraits of people who are homeless. Parrow rendered copies of the photos in water-activated paint, which means the portraits are only visible when it rains.

That makes sense to Richard McAdams, the gospel mission's outreach administrator. He says the Pacific Northwest’s wet winter weather is just one challenge that faces people who are homeless, especially during the holiday season.

“Depression sets in and that lost feeling just gets overwhelming,” McAdams says. He speaks from experience. McAdams spent 10 years on the streets of Portland, Bremerton and Seattle. “About six years ago, the Union Gospel Mission search and rescue van found me sleeping on a cardboard box,” he said.

McAdams hopes the temporary murals serve as beacons for other people who want helping getting off the streets or kicking drug or alcohol addictions. The gospel mission has 175 beds in its Pioneer Square men’s shelter; an adjacent recovery center houses more than 200 people.

But for McAdams, the artworks serve another purpose—he sees them as a way to humanize the people most of us pass by every day without acknowledgement.

“I remember one day I was walking down the street and happened to be in a really good mood,” he says. “I said good morning to some lady and she ran across the street away from me. That was devastating.”

Ariel Parrow based this artwork in Seattle's Westlake Park on a photo by Lee Jeffries
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Ariel Parrow based this artwork in Seattle's Westlake Park on a photo by Lee Jeffries
Credit: photo courtesy Union Gospel Mission

McAdams believes the three murals in "Lost and Found" are more than art for art's sake.

“This may be a piece of work to you, but it’s a story to us. And it’s a story that needs to be told.”

In addition to the mural on the Union Gospel Mission building, two others are located in Westlake Park and on the Seattle Center Fisher Pavilion. They’ll be up through mid January.