Better watch out: Yeti-Claus came to town

Winter 2020.21

Like his more conventional namesake, Yeti-Claus appeared in the night, while not a creature was stirring to see him make his grand entrance. But unlike Santa, Yeti-Claus has remained in Twisp past Christmas and into the new year.

The brainchild of artists Bryan Putnam (who owns Twisp’s Printmade Apparel Co. and Pinetooth Press) and Jessica Newlin, the Yeti-Claus mural on North Glover Street in Twisp is bold and quirky–something festive for the holiday season.

The mural was conceived in what Newlin, who works in Putnam’s Printmade studio as a junior graphic artist, refers to as “two seconds of down time.” After a slow spring due to the pandemic, Printmade ramped back up as print jobs trickled in. “And then things really started booming again,” says Newlin, adding “Big shoutout to all the support from local businesses and organizations!”

Printmade was printing full force, but an artist’s brain is rarely still, and “One day in November…Bryan said ‘I have this blank wall on Glover Street that needs something fun for the holiday season,'” Newlin says. Thoughts of “Santa” quickly morphed to thoughts of “Santa Squatch,” and Yeti-Claus–complete with benches for knees–went from idea to concept, all in those two seconds of down time.

To the public, the mural seemed to appear magically in just about the same amount of time. When people left Glover Street businesses after work on Thu., Dec. 10, the wall between Methow Arts and the Thrifty Fox was its usual dingy salmon color. The following morning–boom!–a riot of blues and yellows and whites, anchored by a mythical (or not?) mountain creature who radiated sparks of cheer.

At first, Newlin says, the vision for the mural was just to provide “a pop of color during a weird time,” but then, she says, “it sort became this answer to some crummy circumstances—a surrogate for Santa while the pandemic kept us from checking in with the big guy himself.”

Newlin, who was “given full license to design, create, and install the thing myself,” calls the mural “North Cascades style: larger than life so we could safely sit upon his knee at 6′ apart–a cheeky nod to the rules we’ve had to learn to live with.” But really, she says, “it was just a chance to be fun and silly in the midst of all the heaviness.”

Newlin has no formal background in art, but grew up in a family of artists and says “I’ve been making art for fun since I can remember! My Grandpa was a professional watercolor artist. My mom is also a painter. We moved around a lot growing up and part of setting up shop in a new home meant picking new paint colors for the walls and painting kid murals in our bedroom or the kitchen.”

Raised in Indianapolis, IN, Newlin graduated with a BS in Public Affairs from Indiana University. After college, Newlin and her husband “decided we wanted to move west, sight unseen! He found his way into wildland firefighting and we spent some time in Colorado and Utah before he got a job with the North Cascade Smokejumpers.” Neither had ever been to Washington State before. “I had to google “Winthrop Washington” when he got the job offer,” Newlin says.

Newlin, who had ten years’ experience bartending in craft breweries, “slung beer” at The Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop for a few years, and “made some wonderful friends and [got] to know the community.” But she’d always wanted to find a way to make art work full time, so when Putnam’s business was exploding in 2019, Newlin applied for a position as a junior graphic designer/production assistant. “I didn’t have the professional experience,” she said, “but I did have piles and piles of sketchbooks, a portfolio of artistic side hustles, and I was hungry for the opportunity.”

Putnam, Newlin says, “taught me everything he knows about screenprinting & graphic design, and some of it stuck and here we are today making t-shirts and painting murals!”

Despite public perception, the mural itself didn’t magically appear. In fact, sub-freezing temperatures prevented Newlin from painting an outdoor mural. Instead, she painted the mural indoors, and installed it outside. ”
I mapped out the design on sheets of plywood, chopped them into 4’x4′ squares and spent a weeks’ worth of evenings painting them by the wood stove in my kitchen,” she says. “I love that it appeared magically, but that was really a happy accident.”

Newlin credits Kaitlyn Rihm, Mel Merrihew, and her husband, Tommy McCullough, with the creation of Yeti-Claus. “I couldn’t have knocked this thing out without them.” And Putnam, of course, was instrumental to the project by providing “the wall space and the opportunity, and who is always down to have some fun.” The opportunity to make Yeti-Claus “has been such a gift, to make art work, in a community that values it, and with talented people who love doing it,” Newlin says.

When she’s not working, Newlin balances creating art (“watercolor, blockprinting, children’s book illustration, always dabbling”) with outdoor pursuits (“running, hiking, backpacking, sightseeing, and roadtripping with a big black cat”). Currently Newlin and her husband are spending a few months in the Florida Keys, while she does some remote design work and takes art classes, but they plan to return to the Methow Valley in the spring.

Yeti-Claus’s tenure on Glover Street is uncertain, as is fitting for a chimera. But Newlin sees this as part of the beauty of the outdoor mural. “It’s one of the things that I love about street art: it can come and go or it can evolve over time! And it can always become just a wall again and wait for new inspiration to strike.” Knowing the creative community in Twisp, we suspect that inspiration will keep striking.