More than three years after he first started sculpting a 3-foot tall figure of a Native American, Wayne Lewis finally witnessed the artwork’s official dedication Thursday.
The sculpture titled “Island Spirit” had actually been installed on Southeast Pioneer Way and on public display for months, but perhaps fitting with this project, the dedication was delayed until this week.
Under gray skies, Lewis pulled a plastic tarp off and unveiled the bronze sculpture before a small group that included City of Oak Harbor officials, Art Commission members and others near the intersection of Dock Street and Pioneer.
Even though Lewis donated the artwork, the project and its location endured some controversy in the beginning when it coincided with the discovery of Native American bones on Pioneer Way in the summer of 2011.
After discussions with representatives from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Lewis said he and the tribe came to agreements on artistic alterations and a more suitable location.
It was Lewis’ wish to have his statue rest on Pioneer Way in historic downtown.
“I’m just happy it’s in place,” he said Friday. “That’s really it.
“I like the feel of the downtown now. I’m proud to have it down there.”
Lewis and Oak Harbor Arts Commission member Peggy Darst-Townsdin had talked for years about the need for artwork to bring attention to the city’s early pioneers. He started building the “Island Spirit” sculpture at his home studio on North Whidbey three years ago shortly after the unearthing of Native American remains during the Pioneer Way construction project.
The idea originally was to place the art piece near the archeological site but sensitivity over the issue led to a search for alternate sites.
The statue depicts a muscular Native American fisherman wearing a skirt and holding a salmon in each hand. After discussions with tribal members, Lewis altered his original design that showed the figure wearing a loincloth to be more historically accurate.
“I think they were correct in their criticisms,” Lewis said. “They didn’t want it to be portrayed as a Plains Indian. I appreciated their input.”
Lewis, who also created the bronze of a Dutch boy sweeper at Windjammer Park, has another project in the works.
He is working on a sculpture of Oak Harbor pioneer Capt. Edward Barrington and his bride, Christina McCrohan.
“It’s about half-finished,” he said. “We have to negotiate with the Arts Commission to see if there’s money for casting the bronze. It’s kind of expensive.”