When you take the time to look around, it’s amazing how much public art is on display all around Oak Harbor. Along Pioneer Way, we have the Mermaid, the Kraken, the Ducklings, the Moon Waves, the “Island Spirit” Native American, and Mr. and Mrs Barrington. At the Marina, we have a remarkable sculpture called “Waiting.” On Highway 20 near N.E. 4th Avenue, we have “Autumn Leaves,” presumably modeled on Garry oaks. And, of course, we have artistically painted fire hydrants around town – with perhaps the less said the better.
There’s so much art to see that Island County Tourism created a video-enhanced Oak Harbor Art Trail. You’ll find it at whidbeycamanoislands.com/oak-harbor-art-trail.
So what is it about a magnificent 37-foot-tall steel sculpture by a world-renowned Mexican artist offered to Oak Harbor for free by a wealthy donor that has folks so upset and tied in knots? While the town arts commission said it would like to have “Angel de la Creatividad” towering somewhere along the harbor, a recent less-than-scientific survey of residents turned thumbs down overwhelmingly. Ugly, monstrous, wrong color, too big, what the heck is it supposed to be, and it’s not a windmill were a few of the printable responses in the survey. All art lovers, I’m sure.
Now I’ve done some good-natured ribbing of the county’s largest city over the years. I once dubbed it “Burger ‘n Fries Ville” (for all the obvious reasons). I called the angle-in parking on Pioneer Way a big pain in my neck. I described it as a town in search of a personality. And I labeled it a place you drive through on your way to someplace else.
Truth is, Oak Harbor could use a great big landmark, something people recognize, hear about before they come and talk about when they visit. I wonder what a survey of folks who have recently visited Oak Harbor might say was their highlight. “Ate a decent taco there.” “Couldn’t find a place for a picnic.” “Why were all the trees cut down across from Safeway?” “Didn’t see much as we drove through on our way to (fill in the blank).” “A lot of very long stoplights.”
I really think a landmark, 37-foot, world-class sculpture would change a lot of perspectives on the town. It would define Oak Harbor in a new and different way. And it doesn’t matter if people argue whether they like it or not. That’s what a landmark is supposed to provoke.
I doubt that Sebastian, the Mexican artist who created the Angel sculpture much cares whether Oak Harbor takes the Angel or leaves it. He’s 73 years old and a multi-millionaire; 200 of his monumental sculptures grace cities all over the world. Among them are “Awaiting the Mariner” in Dublin, Ireland, “Torch of Friendship” in San Antonio and “Variations on New Mexico” in Albuquerque. Those places proudly took the sculptures, and they quickly became landmarks that gave their cities a distinctive look. I bet Sebastian knows if Oak Harbor turns it down it will look really terrific in another city.
“Angel de la Creatividad” was bought by George Drake, a wealthy supporter of public art who passed away in 2020. Its value is estimated at more than $500,000.
Drake’s estate has offered it to Oak Harbor at no cost except for the $35,000 or so it will take to install it in Windjammer Park or someplace down by the harbor.
I get that some local folk say a monumental modern art sculpture with a name in Spanish doesn’t appeal to everyone in Oak Harbor. After all, the town has its proud Dutch heritage – even though most of today’s residents have no claim to any wooden shoes. And it was a shame that a ramshackle old Dutch-style windmill – aka a town landmark – was demolished with no notice.
But I say don’t look a gift landmark horse in the mouth. Take it gladly, install it and start bragging about it, just as all the other cities with Sebastian monuments have done.