Articles on Faces of Bellingham


Mayor Dan Pike by Lea Kelley

Mayor’s Arts Award

You Can Thank Them Later

By Amy Kepferle


What do an eco-friendly print shop, a community photographer, an art teacher, an uber-volunteer, exhibit producers, a program coordinator, two local authors, a singer/songwriter and a homemade music society have in common?

If you read the headline to this story, you already know they’re the winners of the 2009 Mayor’s Arts Awards, the annual event that draws attention to members of the community who have made significant contributions to the arts.

Even if you’re not able to make it to the April 22 ceremony featuring Mayor Dan Pike honoring the 10 awardees chosen this year, don’t be afraid to pat the winners on the back when you see them next. After all, their diligence and creativity is part of what got them noticed in the first place, and those traits are not likely to go away anytime soon.

Lea Kelly, abstract painter and Bellingham Art Tank founder, took up the “Faces of Bellingham” project after shooting an inspiring photo of a stranger with “beautiful lines” in his face. A year later, she’s peppered the city with a variety of posters and taken more than 3,000 photos of community members who are typically delighted to participate (“I am being stalked by aliens” was one of the best reasons she heard for being turned down).

“I initiated Faces of Bellingham to demonstrate the beauty of ordinary people, but the project is also an ironic reflection of a culture in which we are obsessed with celebrities,” Kelly explains. “The Faces of Bellingham are not intended to be glamorous, but they are beautiful in their authenticity. They are the people we live with and work with. I believe these people should have more significance in our lives than manufactured celebrities.”

Joyce Prigot is a talented oil painter, but it’s her work promoting the arts—via spending countless hours volunteering for agencies such as the Whatcom Art Guild, Allied Arts, the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, and BellinghamART—that got her on the roster of winners.

“Volunteer work does take time from one’s professional tasks, but what one gets in exchange is exceedingly valuable,” Prigot notes. “I feel I have received so much more than I have given: I have gained a great deal of knowledge about the local artists and the local art scene, including info that I can use to organize and promote my own artwork. In addition, I think it is important to be part of a community and give back.”

Over at Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress—which recently moved operations from State Street to their new home studio on Elizabeth Street—Kevin Nelson and Carly James have made an art of crafting eco-friendly goods via papermaking, bookbinding and printmaking. 
“It’s always gratifying to be recognized and valued for your hard work,” James says. “We started our business from scratch 4-1/2 years ago and it has allowed us to put all our artistic skills into action and our core values into the service of our community. It is the culmination of our life’s work.”

Space doesn’t allow us to delve into what drives each of this year’s Mayor’s Arts Awards winners into being involved in the artistic genre of their choosing, but that doesn’t mean they’re not appreciated. If you can, thank them for what they do. They’ve earned it.







From the Bellingham Herald: April 10, 2009:

Ten Bellingham residents honored with Mayor’s Arts Awards


Mayor Dan Pike announced recipients of the 30th annual Mayor’s Arts Awards, presented to local people who have enriched the community with their work.

A reception honoring them is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, in the Whatcom Museum’s Rotunda Room, 121 Prospect St., followed by an awards ceremony. 

The winners:

Robert Sarazin Blake, a musician and co-founder of the Monday Night Music Project at Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, and the Subdued Stringband Jamboree music festival.

Jo Dereske, a local author who has published 17 books.

Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress, a print shop that offers workshops in papermaking, bookbinding and printmaking.

Copper Woman Studio, an organization specializing in American Indian art education.

Dana Hanks, coordinator of multiple cultural arts programs throughout Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Joyce Prigot, a volunteer at such agencies as Whatcom Art Guild, Allied Arts, Whatcom Artist Studio Tour and BellinghamART.

Todd Warger and David Lowrance, who produced a documentary about Bellingham Shipyards.

Whatcom County Homemade Music Society, an organization that has hosted concerts and music circles for 30 years.

Lea Kelley, creator of the “Faces of Bellingham” photography Web site,

Laura Kalpakian, author of several award-winning novels and short story collections.




by Kayley Richards for AS Review


Web site allows all Bellingham residents to have celebrity status


    There are some people you hear about almost every day: Lindsay Lohan with her constant party-rehab-party cycle, Britney Spears and her psychotic meltdowns, and George W. Bush.

    But one new Web site, Faces of Bellingham, allows the everyday people of Bellingham—those who live quiet, comparatively scandal-free lives—to have a taste of the limelight.

    Lea Kelley, a local artist, started Faces of Bellingham on a whim in early April after her friend gave her a camera for her birthday.

    “I was walking around town with a companion of mine, and we were taking pictures of random things,” Kelley said. “I came across a man with a fascinating face—one of those faces with life written all over it. He let me take his picture, and while looking at his face through the view finder with the rest of the world blocked out, I was startled at the humanity looking back at me. I became more and more inspired with every face after that.”

    Kelley posted the first face on her Web site on April 4. As of May 28, there were more than 1,114 pictures posted (some with two faces). Her site had received 20,069 views at press time.

    According to Kelley, the site has helped many Bellingham residents to get to know and recognize the faces around them, even if they had never met before.

    “Earlier today, I heard two guys who were obviously meeting each other for the first time, and one of them said, ‘Dude, I saw you on Faces of Bellingham!'” Kelley said with a grin.

    Western Junior, Alex Kelly was photographed for the site on May 23. Just a few days later, Kelly had already been recognized from the site.

    “Two acquaintances here at Western came up to me and said they had seen me on the Web site,” Kelly said. “It’s a really interesting, unique project.”

    Kelley herself has also gained a certain amount of notoriety for the project. Although she has never posted her own headshot on Faces of Bellingham, the site’s 1000th picture was a collage of Kelley’s image reflected in people’s eyes and sunglasses. And many of the people featured in Faces of Bellingham haven’t forgotten the woman with long, red hair and a camera who took the time to recognize them.

    “A lot more people smile at me these days,” Kelley said. “I love that! A lot of folks thank me after they see their face on the site. Sometimes a person even comes up to me and asks if they can be a face of Bellingham or if I will take a picture of their baby.”

    Mark Malijan, a Western senior and photography intern for the Bellingham Herald was with his boss and another photographer at Starbucks when Kelley approached him to take his picture for Faces of Bellingham.

    “I thought it was a cool project, because I was actually thinking of doing something like that myself,” Malijan said.

    Malijan said he enjoyed being pictured on Faces of Bellingham, but he thinks the site would be even better if each picture had a short caption telling the person’s name and a short bio.

    Currently, site visitors have the option of commenting on their photos and adding their names and biographical information if they choose, but the great majority of the pictures have no additional information.

    “I find that their faces tell me more about them than any dialogue I could have with them,” Kelley said.

    According to Kelley, most of the people she’s approached have been enthusiastic about being photographed for Faces of Bellingham.

    “Very few people have refused—probably one in 200,” Kelley said. “And it’s usually for good reasons, like having aluminum foil on their head or hiding from a girlfriend in another state. I completely honor anyone that does not want their face exposed to the world, but I really respect those who are willing to share themselves in authenticity.”

    Having photographed more than 1,000 people in Bellingham, Kelley runs the risk of asking the same person for a photo twice, but Kelley said that this has luckily only happened once so far.

    “[The girl] was at a grocery store and looked completely different than the photo I had taken of her at work a few weeks before that,” Kelley said. “But the first one really didn’t look like her anyway, and she was so happy to get a new photo taken!”

    Kelley said that one of her goals for the project is to photograph 10 percent of Bellingham’s population, which would be about 7,500 faces. However, that will not necessarily be her stopping point.

    “After that, I may be so inspired as to expand my portal into humanity until my own face disappears from it,” Kelley said.

    According to Kelley, working on the Faces of Bellingham project has helped her see the general good of humanity as a whole.

    “I have learned that beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder and the eyes of my neighbors—the real celebrities of life,” Kelley said. “I hope others will start paying more attention to the real people and ignoring the seductive call of propaganda and manufactured identities,”


3 Responses to “Articles on Faces of Bellingham”

  1. The article is consistently lively & involving. The reporter, Kayley Richards, deserves considerable credit, perhaps especially for grasping & reflecting upon the genuine seriousness & social worth of the photographic project.

  2. What a gorgeous child! This website is a fantastic idea. There are beautiful people everywhere. And there is beauty in every face–although this one is definitely exceptional. Keep them coming!

  3. What an amazing example of the power of photography! A beautiful project, that has caught my intense admiration. Lets all work together to display this true definition of beauty to the world.

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