Artist Tom Teitge stands in front of his 1978 mural during a re-touching break last week. (Maggie Smith Photo)

Nearly 40 years after painting original, artist comes back to iconic mural

At the southwest corner of the intersection of 204th Street and Vashon Highway, on the wall of the former Bell Telephone building, there is a mural. Nearly 40 years old, the fading “Frisbee dog” mural has been in need of some TLC for a while, and islander Holly Shull became determined to locate its original artist in the hope that it could be restored.

Through the wonders of social media, Shull recently discovered the identity of the artist — who still has friends on the island — and was able to contact him through his website earlier this month.

Tom Teitge painted the iconic mural while he was living on the island in 1978. Now 70, still pursuing his art and living in Idaho, he said that Shull reached out to him at a fortuitous time.

“I’d actually been thinking about coming back to Vashon, especially since my daughter and her new baby girl were going to be there,” he said. “My friends there were telling me how faded it (the mural) was, but I just wasn’t sure I could manage the trip.”

Then he heard from Shull. Knowing his daughter and granddaughter — who live in Hawaii — were going to be on the island the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17, he told Shull that if she was willing to buy him a plane ticket, he’d come and work on touching up the mural while visiting with his grandbaby. Within hours, Teitge said, Shull called him back and told him there was a plane ticket waiting for him.

So with paint donated by Vashon Ace Hardware, Teitge spent last week bringing his artwork back to life.

The so-called “Frisbee dog” mural — Teitge said it has no official name — was Teitge’s first mural. Painted with the help of a federal CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) grant awarded with the intent to create public works of art, Teitge said he painted two Vashon murals, and several others around the region. Some, like the “Frisbee dog” are still visible today.

In an interview last week, Teitge said the mural is a combination of elements he felt represented changing times. Images in the piece include Ashley Whippet, the then-reigning world-champion Frisbee catching dog; the Delphic Sybil from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; a recreation of a 1908 photo of Alexander Graham Bell — for the Bell Telephone building — and some friends flying a giant circular kite; an aerial view of Vashon in the sound; the rainbow that was added in 1982 and, rumor has it, Stonehenge lurking somewhere in the mix.

Teitge brought new life to the painting over the course of a few rainy days and Shull started a GoFundMe page to help pay for the plane ticket and various miscellaneous expenses. With generous support from 22 donors, has been able to recoup her costs.

“It only took five days,” she marveled.

As for the artist behind Vashon’s very “hippie” mural, he is thrilled to have had the opportunity to return.

“The response from people driving or walking by was astounding,” he said of the many islanders who stopped to chat during the touch up. “It really just blew my mind how happy people were that this was happening and to realize how important this piece is to folks here. Made me feel wonderful.”

Teitge continued painting after leaving Vashon in 1980 and has left his mark with murals throughout Idaho. See tomteitge.com for a full portfolio of his work, including photos of the original “Frisbee dog” piece.

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