Hallway artwork: new pieces and old favorites

Revisiting the Orre Nobles Collection 25 years after its creation


Emma Steinburg

“Warm Spirit Brings Light…Golden Gardens,” (2000) was painted by Ballard alum Joe Reno. This piece is a reference to teenage love and Golden Gardens.

Annie Welman, Editor-in-Chief

As students pass between classes, their heads are often turned down towards shuffling feet or towards each other, wrapped up in hallway conversations. Every now and then, though, heads turn up, away from the clutter of moving bodies.

In these moments, students might notice the vast array of paintings and art features, scattered throughout the corners of the school. Accompanied by small, shiny plaques, these pieces make up the Orre Nobles Collection, an assortment of curated and eclectic pieces.

“Poplars by the Ship Canal,” (1973) by Joan Stuart Ross, is located above the attendance office. The painting depicts the trees as “dancing figures,” and was inspired by Ross’ experiences with local student artists. (Emma Steinburg)

This collection was named after a former Ballard High School teacher who was known for his mentorship and creative influence on the community. 

Though many are unfamiliar with this feature of the school, this collection is a unique and involved effort to showcase diverse art. In fact, Ballard is one of the only high schools in the country to house an art collection, with more than 75 pieces on display. 

Despite its unusual existence, the news of the Orre Nobles Collection rarely reaches students.

“I did not know that there was a collection,” senior Garrett Knight said. “I’ve seen a lot of the paintings around and I’ve always kind of wondered what the deal was with them.”

Art Teacher Matthew Harkleroad seconds these thoughts, after interacting with students each year who have never heard of the collection.

“I get the sense that students aren’t very aware of the art around them,” Harkleroad said.

The collection is maintained and curated by the Ballard High School Arts Foundation, which is led by Matthew Kangas, a professional art critic and Ballard alum.

“Big Red Boat,” (2018) was created by Steve Jensen, a graduate of the class of 1974. This wooden piece reflects the traditions of Norwegian boat builders. (Emma Steinburg)

“I don’t know of any other public schools in the country that have a collection like this,” Kangas said. “It’s like a regular small museum.”

Within this “museum,” a variety of art is showcased in an attempt to meet the foundation’s four goals for the collection. As a whole, these goals focus on exhibiting art that represents regional history and the school’s diversity, often created by local or alumni artists. 

“[The collection] should represent the given makeup of the student body and the staff,” Kangas said.

Throughout the 25 years since the collection’s creation, new pieces have been regularly added with these goals in mind. Recent additions have been no exception, and include pieces by African-American artists like Jacob Lawrence and Gwen Knight. Indigenous artists such as Randy Capoeman and Susan Point are also showcased, along with Nigerian artwork gifted by UW Anthropology Professor Simon Ottenberg. 

“I call [the collection] the curriculum-free art history class,” Kangas said, referring to the opportunities for students to learn from the varied pieces as they pass through the halls each day.

This mural was designed by Cameron Patel, through the Multicultural Club. It celebrates activists like Amanda Gorman and Marsha P. Johnson. (Emma Steinburg)

In addition to the Orre Nobles Collection, several murals adorn the school walls, adding to the array of hallway artwork. One mural was created in 2019 and resides outside the library, while another was added to the Activities Center last spring.

“[The murals] are a complement to the collection as a whole,” Kangas said.

The Multicultural Club led the creation of the most recent mural, which was designed by BHS graduate Cameron Patel. 

“Our goal with the mural was part of a larger project to make the Activities Center more overtly welcoming of multicultural students,” Patel said over email. “We specifically wanted to highlight the contributions of activists and artists of color while also showcasing patterns from a variety of cultures.

The mural depicts various prominent figures, such as poet and activist Amanda Gorman, surrounded by a rainbow color scheme and bright background patterns. Many of these patterns were contributed by students or clubs, adding to the mural’s goals for diverse representation.

“[PASIFIKA Club] submitted a Samoan pattern, [Ballard graduate Eden] Mulu sent me an Ethiopian pattern, and [junior Semai] Hagos sent me an Eritrean pattern,” Patel said.

Leaders of both the Orre Nobles Collection and the Murals hope that their messages extend beyond the artwork itself.

“Ideally, it is a gateway for people to learn more … I don’t want this mural to be the only time people interact with these cultures and histories, I want it to be a jumping-off point,” Patel said.

In the future, the array of hallway artwork will continue to grow and shift, as the collection is maintained and students make their creative marks on the building. 

“I surely hope [that clubs continue adding artwork to the building], because it makes the school a more beautiful and vibrant space,” Patel said.