Carving out a niche

Ridgefield couple's 50-acre property — filled with historic structures, scenes of dancing bears and frolicking schoolkids carved from wood — catches the attention of passers-by

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

 
photoA carved momma bear looks up at a carved cub reaching for a honeycomb on an artist-made tree topped with a metal eagle sculpture made by a Boise, Idaho, artist.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

On the Web:

View a slideshow of the Zylstras' art display.

RIDGEFIELD — David and Carol Zylstra didn’t plan on making their 50-acre property near the Tri-Mountain Golf Course into a community destination. It just happened.

The Zylstras, who live in the 30110 block of Northwest 11th Avenue, have dozens of life-size woodcarvings of animals, metal sculptures and odds-and-ends on display along the road in front of their property. They also have four refurbished historic buildings that were moved to their land and an artificial creek that is more than 200 feet long.

It all started a few years back when they built a pond and a pile of dirt the Zylstras call Mount Ridgefield.

“From there, we just started getting a piece here and a piece there,” David Zylstra said.

There’s no rhyme or reason to their display, the two said. Carol, a retired nurse, and David, who is semi-retired from a career managing income property, just make it up as they go along.

“Do we have a vision for this?” David Zylstra said. “No.”

The two just find things they like and add them to the display.

After David Zylstra picked carvings of a four-bear band, he decided it wouldn’t be complete without characters dancing. He commissioned an artist to create more woodcarvings of a group of dancing bears and pigs and placed them nearby.

“We had the band and had to have somebody dance,” he said.

Another example: The two had a tree sculpture put in so they could place a metal eagle from an artist in Boise, Idaho, on top. Carol said she thought it would be cute to have a bear cub trying to get to a honeycomb on the tree. They made it happen, and also added a carving of a momma bear watching the cub.

The collection now includes art from Washington, Idaho, Tennessee, Montana and Mexico.

The star of the show is a historic Ridgefield schoolhouse the Zylstras bought and moved a third of a mile up the street to their property. David will point out they didn’t lose a single brick in the shuffle.

The two paid to have the building restored so it would look like it would have around 1900 — complete with a replica version of Old Glory with 45 stars and a group of fiberglass schoolchildren playing on a playground. David said one of his future projects will be restoring the inside of the school.

The Zylstras also have two buildings, including a 2,500-gallon, four-story water tower and outbuilding from the abandoned 120-year-old Kapus family farmstead, which was listed as one of Washington’s Most Endangered Historic Properties in 2008. The Zylstras had the buildings moved about a mile from their original spot east of Interstate 5 a few years back. The 75.6-acre Kapus site was purchased by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in 2007.

The display draws the attention of passers-by, retirement home buses and the occasional golfer at Tri-Mountain. Weekends are particularly busy, David said.

Earlier this month, a silver SUV crept along the road by the Zylstras’ property. A car horn pierced the silence of the cloudy afternoon as another car sped around the SUV, its driver apparently not pleased about the rubbernecking.

Must be someone looking at our property, David Zylstra told a reporter. Minutes later, the car continued on and pulled to the side of the road. A woman jumped out of the backseat, snapped a photo and jumped back in the car before it took off.

It happens all the time, the Zylstras said.

They welcome people to stop by and look at the art from along the fence (they put in two pullouts so people can also park and walk along the road).

“I didn’t want to put it in the backyard and not share that with people,” David said. “We have a lot of road frontage on our property here. It’s set back enough so it’s away from the road but people can drive by … and see and appreciate things.”

Matt Hambrook, a La Center artist who has at least a dozen carvings on display on the Zylstras’ property, said he appreciates the exposure.

“It’s good for business,” he said. “It’s advertisement for me. It’s advertisement for the people who have it.”

Hambrook is now working on a bear dressed as a ranger (think Smokey Bear) for the Zylstras. He said David doesn’t paint or carve wood, but the property is his form of artistic expression.

“That’s his little art project out there,” he said.