Every year, the poster for Cannon Beach’s Sandcastle Contest becomes a ubiquitous image, stamped on promotional clothing and displayed in storefront windows throughout town. And the poster for the 51st annual contest — held June 20 with related events scheduled for the 19th and 21st — is a memorable one.
A comely, curvaceous mermaid, ornamented with pearls, shells, sea stars and other oceanic objects, relaxes on the sand, her piscine tail raised as if in welcome. Behind the red-headed sea siren, a spired sandcastle rises from the shoreline, while, in the distance, Haystack Rock grounds the scene in Cannon Beach.
Though the artist — 26-year-old Devon Edwards, of Seaside — is a well-known presence in Cannon Beach, she isn’t typically known for her art but for keeping the city safe. For nearly four years, Edwards has served as a patrol officer with the Cannon Beach Police Department.
“By day, I’m an officer. By night, I’m an artist,” she said.
In January, the Chamber of Commerce Sandcastle Contest Committee commissioned Edwards — a mixed-media artist who specializes in the human form — after her supervisor, Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn, vice president of the chamber board, mentioned her name at a committee meeting.
“When I first moved here, I actually thought, ‘How cool would it be one day to actually do the poster for Sandcastle,’” she said. “I didn’t actually think it would ever happen.”
Originally rendered on illustration board in ink, gel pens, gouache paints, artist markers and watercolors, the poster went through several concepts before Edwards and the sandcastle committee decided on the final image in late February. A scrapped concept that Edwards liked depicted the mermaid holding the sandcastle like a snow globe.
“It makes a lot more sense to go with the one that they chose,” she said. “The sandcastle needs to be a lot more prominent than the mermaid.”
The Sandcastle poster isn’t the first time Edwards has seen her work publicly displayed in Cannon Beach.
In 2013, she designed the slick decals, showing Haystack Rock’s gray silhouette, on the police department’s vehicles. In a couple of months, the officers will be sporting new badges whose centerpiece will no longer feature the Oregon state seal but Haystack Rock against a setting sun — another Edwards creation.
People are often surprised, Edwards said, to learn that the analytical aptitude of an officer and the aesthetic sensitivity of an artist could exist within the same person.
“They kind of look at me odd and go, ‘How did that happen?’” she said, chuckling. “I had dual career aspirations: I’ve always wanted to be a police officer, and I’ve always wanted to be an artist.”
Throughout high school, Edwards gave serious thought to how she could pursue both vocations. “Everyone said, ‘Well, just be a sketch artist.’ I’m like, ‘That’s so cliché! That’s not what I want to do,’” she said.
Edwards earned a degree in interdisciplinary arts from Seattle University in 2010, was hired by the police department in 2011 and graduated from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in 2012. She was the officer who, on one of her security checks in January 2014, spotted Earnest Lee Dean, the robber of the Stephanie Inn, driving away from the crime scene.
After July, Edwards will join King County Sheriff’s Office, an agency based in Seattle near her hometown of Gig Harbor.
Meanwhile, she is two classes away from completing her master of arts degree, with a focus in illustration, through the online Savannah College of Art and Design. “I’m so close to being done I can taste it,” she said.
Art is still a hobby for Edwards, who cites the Art Nouveau movement from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and retro pin-up art as her greatest artistic influences. However, she plans to start building her portfolio and talking with local galleries that deal in fine art and illustration, she said.
The work that goes into her pieces is, for her, “very personal,” she said. “It’s kind of like channeling your emotions. It’s your outlet.”
The work of policing her community is also personal, particularly when tackling cases of family violence, which she called the “hard stuff”: child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Family violences cases — which will become her area of expertise when she transfers to King County — embody the reason she got into law enforcement in the first place: “wanting to help people,” she said.
Asked if confronting these issues regularly ever gets easier, emotionally speaking, Edwards said, “No.”
“You get better at handling it, at being able to process it a lot better, but it doesn’t always get easier, especially when kids are involved,” she said. “If it gets too easy, if you just brush it off, then you need some help yourself. If it doesn’t affect you in this job, then there’s a problem.”