WALKING ONE NIGHT in my neighborhood, I saw an image and a message that widened my eyes.
“Attention Citizen!” proclaimed the poster with the ferocious female.
Eyes ablaze, she wore a flowing gown and taut face mask.
Finding no signature on the piece, I snapped a photo and posted it on social media, asking for clues to the artist’s identity.
First came an outpouring of admiration — “glorious,” “just the coolest” — and then, mystery solved: Michelle Hensel, an actor I’ve admired in local theater productions, expressed her pride that her daughter, Rose Burt, created “Attention Citizen!”
Burt, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, worked with Arendt Speser of Andante Books, a Port Townsend printer, to produce a small batch of the posters in May.
With this image, they hoped to inspire people to wear face masks. Goddesses like this one do, as we can see.
Aiming to show people an image of feminine, “back-to-the-Earth” power, Burt placed a bundle of vegetables in her arms and named her Gaia Antonia ’Rona.
She’s my favorite kind of art — encompassing beauty and awareness.
As I walked, Gaia reminded me that, while museums are closed and promotional posters absent about town, such visual gifts are out there, calling us to stop, look and think.
“I’m a Port Townsend kid, through and through,” said Burt, who graduated from Port Townsend High School in 2011.
After a stint in Seattle, she moved back home, and along with her visual art, she’s involved in theater, including 2018’s “Dillon on Dylan” and last year’s Walt Whitman birthday celebration.
Local musical director Linda Dowdell recalled Burt’s performances at the high school; even as a teenager, she possessed a voice filled with color. In the musical “Bat Boy,” Dowdell saw Burt’s maturity and heart as the mother figure.
Last Christmas, “she designed the definitive ‘Spirit of the Yule’ poster,” Dowdell added.
For that Key City Public Theatre show, Burt created a mysterious female figure, “exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for.”
A couple of weeks after my first sighting of Burt’s “Citizen” poster, I went searching for more of them downtown, where she’d offered copies to shopkeepers.
It was like a bird walk: I sought a particular species and didn’t find it — until I got back uptown, two blocks from my place.
There she was, in the windows of a pub and a hair salon, which displayed the newer version with the message “Black Lives Matter,” and Gaia Antonia holding up the scales of justice. She presided over the row of storefronts, several of which also had “BLM” signs in their windows.
Burt printed this version before she participated in a Port Townsend protest march earlier this month.
Though she gave away all of her copies, the image and contact information can be found at AndanteBooks.com.
For Burt, illustration is a way to communicate with people’s hearts — and, for a moment, transcend commerce. Gaia Antonia may yet reappear; the artist can see herself creating a series of these posters.
I’ll keep walking with eyes wide open.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend. Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be July 1. Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.