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Proposed sculpture runs into ‘Stumbly Ducklings’

Newly appointed Oak Harbor Arts Commission member Peggy Darst Townsdin holds up a copy of the Whidbey News-Times during a Monday meeting at City Hall. She and local artist Wayne Lewis (center) are proposing a bronze sculpture to honor the city’s pre-settler past. Oak Harbor Administrative Assistant Karen Crouch is in the background.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Newly appointed Oak Harbor Arts Commission member Peggy Darst Townsdin holds up a copy of the Whidbey News-Times during a Monday meeting at City Hall. She and local artist Wayne Lewis (center) are proposing a bronze sculpture to honor the city’s pre-settler past. Oak Harbor Administrative Assistant Karen Crouch is in the background.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

The vision is clear but the future of the bronze Native American man being proposed for downtown Oak Harbor remains clouded.

During their regular monthly meeting at City Hall Monday, Oak Harbor Arts Commission members discussed the sculpture with artist Wayne Lewis. He is jointly proposing the piece with amateur historian and author Peggy Darst Townsdin, who is also a newly appointed member of the volunteer arts advisory group.

While the other two arts commission members in attendance, K.C. Pohtilla and Rick Lawler, reacted favorably to the figure, several problems hindered the body from taking any immediate action.

The biggest problem was the lack of a quorum on the seven-member board. Art commission members Kit Christopheron and Nora O’Connell-Balda were not present with previously excused absences and two positions are unfilled.

“We can’t do anything tonight other than to say it looks good,” Pohtilla said.

Lewis and Darst Townsdin have been working on the idea since the remains of four Native Americans were discovered on SE Pioneer Way this past June. They hope the bronze piece will honor affected tribes and shed light on the city’s pre-settler past.

Lewis is the Oak Harbor artist that created the bronze “Dutch Boy” at Windjammer Park and Darst Townsdin, a descendant of city pioneer Captain Edward Barrington, is acting as the main cheerleader for the project.

The proposed figure is of a Native American man holding a salmon in each hand. It would stand about three feet tall, be placed on a pedestal of equal height, and be located directly across from the main dig site at the top of stairs to Mi Pueblo restaurant on SE Pioneer Way.

But the location could be one of its biggest road blocks. “Stumbly Ducklings” a bronze piece to be created by renowned Clinton artist Georgia Gerber, has already been conditionally approved by the city council for the same spot.

Pending public review and subject to available funding, the ducks would follow two other public art pieces for downtown: a bronze mermaid on a boulder for the corner of Dock Street and a two-dimensional Moon and Waves sculpture for SE Midway Boulevard.

According to Pohtilla, the pedestal will need to be anchored into the pavement, which means city engineers will have to be consulted. It’s possible that hidden infrastructure could limit its placement.

She also worried about “clutter.” If two pieces are located so close together, one may detract from the other.

Darst Townsdin pushed the benefits of the Native American piece, such as its historical relevance and the fact that Lewis is doing the work for free. Lewis is volunteering his time and expertise but not the cost of casting or expenses for traveling to the Oregon foundry.

The total cost is expected to run about $6,000.

“The price really is a drop in the bucket,” she said.

Pohtilla warned that while the cost is favorable, the arts commission’s entire budget is currently tied up in the other three pieces for downtown. At the moment, it doesn’t have $6,000 to spend.

“We have to have the money,” she said.

In a later interview, Pohtilla said she is not against the piece and that it would be good to see it located next to the dig site. She also said she’s seen work done by Lewis and called it “gorgeous.”

Lawler, who said very little during the presentation, expressed support for the piece in an interview after the meeting. He said he hoped the arts commission can find the money for the piece.

“I’d love to see it down there, it would be great,” Lawler said.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt attended Monday’s meeting and said he believed the proposal could be reviewed by engineers in time for the arts commission’s next meeting.

 

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