The framework of “Autumn Leaves,” a metal sculpture bound for Oak Harbor, rests at Architectural Elements in Bellingham. Nora O’Connel-Balda, a member of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission, stands at right. Photo courtesy Skip Pohtilla

Oak Harbor goes big on latest art piece

In the two years since the City of Oak Harbor began working with an architectural firm on a new public art sculpture, there have been a few design modifications and some slight changes to the project’s scope.

But one stipulation was iron-clad, non-negotiable and irrefutable — the firm was responsible for delivery.

Some time in the coming months, a flatbed truck will be rolling into Oak Harbor, carrying an art piece large enough to grab people’s attention.

And that is the intent. The “Autumn Leaves” steel sculpture is designed to blow people away as they approach the city while traveling southbound along State Highway 20.

At 42 feet long and 16 feet tall, the sculpture resembles giant oak leaves blowing in the wind.

Architectural Elements, out of Bellingham, is putting the finishing touches on the sculpture and will be tasked with delivering it to its resting spot at the corner of State Highway 20 and NE 4th Avenue, not far from the play fields at North Whidbey Middle School.

“I think the idea is to transport it in one piece,” said Cac Kamak, senior planner with the City of Oak Harbor. “It will be an event getting it from there to here.”

Kamak said he was told it will need to rest on an angle during transport to avoid striking overpasses, bridges or any other overhead obstacles.

Geoff Molnar, project and drafting manager at Architectural Elements, confirmed that, adding that it will be less than 12 feet wide and under 14 feet tall during transport.

Molnar said it will be the largest piece of art they’ve ever delivered.

“We were able to get a view of the framework itself,” said Skip Pohtilla, chairman of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission, referring to a committee’s field trip to Bellingham last month. “In person, I will tell you, it looks a lot different. There’s a picture of (commissioner) Nora (-O’Connel) Balda standing near it. It just dwarfs her.”

The cost of the project is roughly $45,000, which includes about $3,000 added on recently for revisions and engineer services for a structural analysis.

Art projects in Oak Harbor are funded through a 0.25 percent utility tax on water, sewer and garbage.

The arts commission, made up of community members, recommends projects for city council approval.

The council approved the original project in late 2015.

The art piece has gone through several modifications, which has led to the project’s delay. Next month, the city council will be asked to approve the additional costs that are necessary to cover a leaf design revision and engineering services.

The large oak leaves originally were supposed to have slits along the veins. But fearing a safety issue after seeing the size of the leaves, the arts commission asked for an alteration to allow light to shine through the leaves without worrying about whether a child might catch a finger in them. The firm then presented an example of a leaf made with fine holes in it, which satisfied the arts commission.

“I like it better than the original,” Pohtilla said.

Kamak said he doesn’t have a timetable on when the “Autumn Leaves” will be arriving in Oak Harbor.

Pending city council approval, there are still the modifications to be completed by the artist and plenty of prep work to be done by the city, which will build a berm and a foundation. If everything goes smoothly, he said residents could see the piece resting in Oak Harbor this summer — with help from a crane.

The piece will have 10 oak leaves — each ranging in length from 3 to 6 feet.

Molnar said he expects the art piece to be finished this spring.

“On our side, we have to prepare the site as well,” Kamak said.

Skip Pohtilla, chairman of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission, shows a much smaller version of the sort of oak leaves that will be part of Oak Harbor’s new public art piece Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in front of City Hall. The “Autumn Leaves” metal sculpture will show 10 leaves blowing in the wind. The sculpture will rest on the side of State Highway 20 near NE 4th Avenue. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

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