Public art has its fans, critics

Downtown Vancouver boasts wide variety of statues, sculptures

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Downtown art

"Pioneer Mother" (1928)Esther Short Park$10,000 (commissioned by banker E.G. Crawford)

"Phrogy" (1981)Corner of 11th and Main streets.Cost unknown (donated by Vancouver businessman Paul Christensen)

"Buckskin Brigade" (1990 replica of 1941 piece)Clark County Courthouse east entrance, 1200 Franklin St.Replica cost $21,000 (private donations)

"Boat of Discovery" (1992)Foot of Columbia Street, by the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay$50,000 (private donations)

"Illchee" Statue and Plaza (1994)Columbia River waterfront west of McMenamins and Beaches$45,000 (private donations)

"Pioneer Aviator" (Carlton Bond) (1997) At the entrance to Pearson Air Museum, 1105 E. Fifth St.$12,000 (private donations)

The Sculpture Garden ("Glyph Singer," "Wheel Series," "Winged Woman," "Spike Flower") Ninth and Broadway

"Winged Woman," (1997), $22,000 (private donations)

"Glyph Singer No. 3," (1997), $30,000 (private donations)

"Wheel Series No. 1," (1999), $25,000 (private donations)

"Captain George Vancouver" (2000) Corner of Sixth and Esther streets, across from Esther Short Park$70,000 (private donations)

"Salmon Run" Bell Tower and Glockenspiel (2001) Esther Short Park, Propstra Square$1.2 million (donations from George Propstra and family)

"A Gift For You" (2001) Esther Short Park, bench near Propstra Square $39,000 (donations from George Propstra and family)

"Wendy Rose" (2007) (Wendy the Welder )East end of the Columbia River Waterfront Trail$140,000 (sponsored by city of Vancouver and Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust)

Vancouver Land Bridge (2008) From Fort Vancouver to Waterfront Park$10.3 million (part of the Confluence Project)

Turtle Place Mural and Water Feature (2009) Corner of Seventh and Main streets.$70,000 (donations through the Vancouver Downtown Association)

"The Phoenix" (2010) Corner of Eighth and Main streets.About $17,500 (donations through the Vancouver Downtown Association)

"Flying Umbrellas" (2012) Evergreen Boulevard and Main Street$12,500 (donations through the Vancouver Downtown Association)

Heather Baron looked on with an amused smile as her three boys, ages 6, 4, and 18 months, pretended there was a bear hiding in the rocks on the back side of the "Pioneer Mother" statue in Esther Short Park.

Like many residents of Vancouver, Baron said she hasn't spent much time thinking about the city's public art, but she has used some of it as a bit of a teaching tool.

"My son was looking at the back and asked me 'what's a pioneer?,' so it can be good education about our community," Baron said.

When she later asked Hunter, her 6-year-old, if he had learned what a pioneer was, he had a quick reply.

"They travel around the country," Hunter said. "We travel around the country too. We've been to Idaho, Oregon and Washington."

The city of Vancouver once had a full-time staff member dedicated to putting together public arts projects, but that position was eliminated due to budget concerns last year, said Jan Bader, the city's program and policy development manager.

And with the need to maintain core services such as police, fire and water, it's not likely that there will be any new funding for public art anytime soon, she said.

"There's really not much left of the program," Bader said. "What we have now is the inventory of public arts owned by the city and a small budget for caring for the art."

Vancouver's Downtown Association also doesn't have a public art budget. But the group has gathered donations and put together four pieces of public art since 2009, including one unveiled earlier this year at the corner of Evergreen Boulevard and Main Street called "Flying Umbrellas."

"It all depends on how our board of directors plans to spend our dollars," said Lee Rafferty, executive director. "We don't have any more (art projects) planned right now, but if we had funding, I'm sure we would. We're not opposed to that."

Even without a budget for new art though, downtown Vancouver has already gathered quite a collection of sculptures, murals and other works of art.

And like all art, each one is not without its champions and critics.

"They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Rafferty said. "The value of art -- it brings up a bunch of reactions based on your preferences."

The bronze statue of "Pioneer Mother," which depicts a pioneer woman and her three children, came to Esther Short Park in 1928. Vancouver banker E.G. Crawford donated $10,000 for Avard Fairbanks, a well-known artist at the time, to create it.

It's one of the city's oldest pieces of public art, but that doesn't mean everybody appreciates it.

"I think it's creepy," said Holly Burpo, who was visiting the city from Seattle for the Kumoricon convention on Sept. 1. "Her, with the kids. I don't know, the meaning is unclear."

Burpo's favorite statue is "Capt. George Vancouver," at the corner of Sixth and Esther streets -- although she likes it for a somewhat unusual reason.

"I enjoy him," Burpo said, posing for a photo with the statue in her anime-festival costume. "I think he's the best one to pose with."

May Her, who owns the Wan & May's Fresh Bloomer flower stand at the Vancouver Farmers Market, also loves the George Vancouver statue.

"Every weekend we put flowers in his hands," Her said. "He makes everybody happy to be here. He's smiling, and he deserves to be holding flowers."

The positioning of his left hand, which is curled and pointing at a globe, also makes it a perfect flower-holding structure, she said.

"All my customers like the flowers in his hands, almost every day they say 'thank you' for doing that," Her said.

Passing by, though, Bill Rabiega of Portland had a different take on old George.

"Basically it depicts Vancouver claiming the world," Rabiega said. "But he claimed it for the United Kingdom, actually. And aesthetically, well he's in a very awkward position, but I guess if you're claiming the world for the United Kingdom, you should be."

Sitting by "A Gift For You," another Esther Short Park statue that depicts a girl handing a flower to a man on a bench, Gordon Scott of Portland said he was impressed by how many works of art are in the downtown area.

"I really like Vancouver art and architecture, especially what they've done with Esther Short Park," Scott said. "This statue in particular, it's very symbolic."

Lounging on the other side of the statue, Amber Morrison of Vancouver said she likes almost all of the public art pieces around the city.

"I like the styles, modern, old, brass, and all the variety," Morrison said. "I really like the umbrella one, all the colors, they really pop at you. It kind of stands out against everything."

Still, she's not a fan of all the city's public art.

"I like variety in my art, but some of it really doesn't speak to me," Morrison said. "Turtle Place, the water feature? I get it, but it's kinda blah."

The water feature in Turtle Place was built from recycled materials, like bits of C-Tran buses, and designed to emphasize sustainability. But Morrison is far from its only critic, Bader said.

"The one I've gotten the most complaints about is that water feature," Bader said. "People think it looks like a bunch of junk. But it's art, it's in the eye of the beholder."

Not far from downtown along the Columbia River waterfront, joggers often pass by another array of public art works without paying much attention.

Running across the $10.3 million Vancouver Land Bridge, which connects the waterfront to Fort Vancouver, David Baker, 28, said he had no idea of the bridge's history.

It was built by the Confluence Project and designed by Maya Lin, the artist and architect who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"I run a 3.2-mile loop five days a week and I don't usually notice any of the art," Baker admitted. "You see a lot of kids and families around though, that sit and look at it. But I had no idea that (Lin) built this."

Peggy Muhly walks the waterfront and bridge trail almost every day. She enjoys the land bridge and the statues of Illchee and Wendy Rose (the welder) by the river, she said.

"I wish the joggers would appreciate it all more," Muhly said. "You can tell the people from out of town because they're always stopping and looking at everything and you can tell they enjoy it. That's what art is supposed to do."