Below a threatening dark sky, community members and civic leaders gathered to celebrate Oak Harbor’s newest piece of public artwork.
Gusts of wind and damp air threatened to cut short the occasion on the first day of spring Wednesday.
But the weather cooperated just enough to allow the event to proceed and the community to formally welcome the arrival of an elaborately crafted 14-foot cedar bench that now rests in front of the Oak Harbor Post Office.
The new “story board sculpture” was designed and hand carved by Whidbey Island artist Pat McVay, who was among about 30 people who gathered Wednesday.
The intent was to provide a peaceful spot for the community to rest and reflect in direct view of the 400-year-old oak tree at the post office’s native plant demonstration garden.
Island Thrift and Harbor Pride were the primary funders of the new artwork. It marked the final project of Harbor Pride, a community organization dedicated to improve Oak Harbor.
Harbor Pride also was instrumental in helping save the ancient Garry Oak tree from being cut down in 2005.
Oak Harbor mayor Scott Dudley was among a dozen speakers who took turns praising the art work and civic involvement. Through short speeches and poems, they talked about the value of the demonstration garden and preservation of the old oak tree.
“So many hands have touched this garden,” said Melissa Duffy, a Harbor Pride member.
Duffy and Oak Harbor parks director Hank Nydam shared details about the health of the Garry Oak, the centerpiece of the garden. Nydam said the tree was recently measured at 62 feet tall with a canopy of 100 feet across. Duffy said as they dug down, a plastic covering was found near the base of the tree and has been removed.
“It’s providing the biggest acorns in town,” she gushed.
Other speakers included postmaster Terry Van Slyke, McVay, City Council members Danny Paggao and Bob Severns, Oak Harbor pioneer descendant Earle Darst, and Harbor Pride members Terry LeDesky, Sharon Nicholson, Bev Casebeer and Helen Chatfield-Weeks. Also in attendance was Dr. Gary Berner, chairperson for the Island Thrift board, among others.
Van Slyke said he hoped the bench would be a place for the community to stop, reflect “and think about family from far away distances.”
McVay donated more than $1,000 in labor and materials to create the artwork. The wood came from a Western Red Cedar salvaged on the south end of the island.
LeDesky, an architect, drafted the bench design and McVay went to work, creating a story board using creatures and sea life that can be found on Whidbey Island. If you pan the bench, the critters tell a story.
“My favorite projects are ones in the public for people to have access to,” McVay said.
A contest is being held to name the sculpture. The winner will receive a small carving by McVay. Entries may be put in a jar in the post office.
The post office and city parks also are seeking volunteers interested in helping take care of the native plant demonstration garden. To get involved, contact Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-679-1255.