Walking into the Metro Transit East Base in Bellevue can be disorienting. The facility is large, with buses and equipment scattered throughout and people moving busily as they go about their work. The sound of drills are heard in the background and the smell of a mechanic shop tickles your nose. Beautiful, hand-painted signs adorn the entrance to each work station and stand out among the otherwise generic facility walls. These signs were created by Don Charbonneau and are part of what he calls “East Base flair.”
Charbonneau, who works in the East Base Paint Shop, is an equipment painter with Metro Transit, member of the Native American Blackfeet Indian nation, Hall of Fame inductee to the Northwest Pinstripers, and twice-featured Artist of the Month at the Blackfeet Heritage Center in Browning, Mont.
He began his career as an artist when he was just a child. His uncle, taught him different art techniques with watercolor. Not long after he sold his first piece of art at age 14. Later on, he was trained as a commercial artist at the Occupational Skills Center operated through Highline Public Schools. He went on to work at sign shops and began pinstriping cars and even watercraft.
His day-to-day operations as an equipment painter for King County include painting the County’s buses and vehicles, equipment in the facility, and signs.
“My background painting signs transfers to the buses,” said Charbonneau. “I’m thankful to be here simply because it has allowed me to focus on my work, art, and life.”
Currently Charbonneau’s personal artwork is being featured in a summer showcase at the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning, Mont.
Many of his new pieces reveal his Blackfeet heritage and reflect traditional values and customs. His work often includes images of horses, buffalo and human forms.
“In my drawings I try to explain my culture and my beliefs,” said Charbonneau. “I also try to explain things that are universal to different cultures in a way that is still unique to my culture.”
He is a certified Peigan (Pikuni) artist, and he designed the official Blackfeet Tribe license plate for the state of Montana.
His passion for his artwork and culture have left a lasting effect on East Base and brought a sense of pride to the facility. His work has been recognized by other Metro Transit Bases and they have made requests for him to make custom signs for their facilities.
“His artwork has livened this place up,” said Leif Engebo, Chief of East Base Vehicle Maintenance. “It’s the first thing you notice when you come into the shop, and everyone is always blown away. After Don gets done with his artwork the guys take more pride in – and better care of their equipment”
“King County has all of my talents,” said Charbonneau. “I just try to do the best that I can with everything I’ve got and make everything better.”