New Eastlake Artwork Celebrates TOPS Teachers

It showed up like an eye-catching gift on the corner of Boylston Avenue East and East Roanoke Street.

The drab traffic signal control box that you might never notice had been converted into a new piece of public art. Painted on either side of it now are two vibrant portraits with names next to them – Don  Zemke and Eric Herndon – two popular TOPS-Seward School teachers, and the artwork is right next to the gym where they work.

Desmond Hansen did the murals, “It was a surprise from the community who appreciates the work they’ve done over the years,” he wrote on his Instagram account.

Margo Robb, an 8th grade parent at TOPS, explained, “This eighth grade class had kind of a weird ending to their time at the school.” But she said the graduating students wanted to do something positive and honor the long-time PE instructors who had been with them since kindergarten.

So the artwork really is a gift.

Robb did some quick research and math: Don Zemke has been with TOPS for 25 years, and Eric Herndon, 29 years. Their longevity “just goes to show what an institution they are. They’re really the heart of the school,” she added.

On his website, Hansen writes about how he got into this type of painting gig:

“In 2018 I obtained the city permits necessary to set forth on a new public art project titled #BRIGHTENUPSEATTLESINTERSECTIONS . I’m bringing legitimate value to communities by hand painting original artwork on traffic signal control boxes. They include portraits of iconic public figures and others ranging from musicians, athletes and actors to tech industry pioneers, cultural leaders and scientists. Since 2018 I have painted 25+ traffic boxes and the project is continuing to grow. I’m very proud to say it is funded entirely by the public, myself and community art supporters.”

This is the first Hansen mural in the neighborhood.  He painted it in about five hours last Sunday, June 7.

Many of his other murals can be seen in West Seattle where he lives. But probably none are quite so reflective of a place. “It was an honor for me to paint that there for them,” he said.

Written by Judy Smith

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