The Sculpture Garden on Broadway never turned into the hanging-out-with-art mecca that its planners envisioned in the 1990s. If you’re not plugged into the local arts scene, or have no reason to explore downtown Vancouver’s obscure corners, you may have missed the very existence of the outdoor sculpture collection.
For the past 21 years, it has been located in a brick pedestrian plaza between office buildings near the Regal Cinemas, at the foot of downtown’s tallest building. Seven sculptures were originally envisioned here by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which bought the art, and the city of Vancouver, which accepted the donations, but just four eventually materialized between 1997 and 2001 — “in a location where not a lot of people were aware they were there,” said city program manager Jan Bader.
“We had visions of what it could be,” Bader said, but what the site turned into isn’t much more than a wide, out-of-the-way pedestrian alleyway that’s less popular with art lovers than people with nowhere else to go. But the chunky artworks that did take position here are by some of the region’s premier sculptors, and seem like metal-and-stone variations on a single civic theme: something about rising up, moving forward and growing into beauty.
The late Don Wilson’s huge stone “Wheel Series 1998” encapsulates that theme most clearly. It’s an interlocking limestone piece made of five sections that symbolize different elements of community, the artist said: people, government, business, school and religion. The sections merge in the form of a wheel, representing “Vancouver’s forward movement, from a historic settlement to a modern-day city,” according to a new interpretive kiosk that will be installed soon.
But not in that obscure brick plaza. The motionless quartet has now been moved — just a few yards away, up the block and across C Street to the Vancouver Community Library. The artworks, which were cleaned and shined up by the Cascadia Art Conservation Center of Portland after 20 years of weathering and abuse, are now outside the southeast corner of the library building in a sweet little multilevel arrangement that makes parking, returning books and walking around to the front door much more stimulating than before.
If You Go
• What: Mary Granger Sculpture Garden ribbon-cutting
• When: 5 p.m. Oct. 5
• Where: Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.
• Admission: Free
• First Friday Art Walk: Download the monthly “hotsheet” of exhibits and events at vdausa.org/first-friday-downtown.
“It energizes the back of our building,” said Fort Vancouver Regional Library Executive Director Amelia Shelley. “What’s nice is, where the sculptures are now, you can see them from inside and from outside the building. There are two perspectives.”
“They did a good job. This is very nice. This is better,” said sculptor Elizabeth Heron (formerly Kohler), who recently visited the spot for the first time. Heron, whose “Winged Woman” helped launch the Sculpture Garden on Broadway when it opened in 1997, said she was painfully aware of the neglect and vandalism that dragged down that site.
You have to expect outdoor, publicly accessible sculpture to get played with, she said — so she didn’t mind artistic contributions like the lipstick applied to her “Winged Woman” — but there were even people trying to remove and demolish the sculpture the very night it was installed, she remembered.
Heron also remembered what was on her mind as she created the “Winged Woman,” which actually has just one small wing, not a pair: “She was pretty early in my career. She needed another wing to really fly. It was a self-portrait. They’re all self-portraits.” (But the great thing about abstract art, she added, is that every interpretation is the right interpretation.)
Heron, a Ridgefield sculptor and former Clark College art teacher, grew her wings when working as a protege of master sculptor James Lee Hansen, now of Battle Ground, whose piece “Glyph Singer no. 3” is also in this group. Completing the quartet is an immense, boxy, gleaming “Spike Flower” by the late Manuel Izquierdo.
A brief ribbon-cutting ceremony and a few speeches at 5 p.m. Friday will celebrate the relocation and renaming of the Mary Granger Sculpture Garden. The speakers will be Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Shelley and David Granger, the son of Mary Granger, who founded the Community Foundation in 1984 and who masterminded the sculpture garden about a decade later.
Mary Granger was famous in this community as a “grand and gracious” philanthropist, according to one eulogy after she died in 2000; she also launched a local “I Have a Dream” program, which helped hundreds of low-income students successfully attend college. And, she was the kind of creative thinker who believed that art is key to building community identity, according to her son.
“She always believed that a great education was a broad-based education,” David Granger said, adding that his mother was an art lover and watercolorist, too. “She was diverse herself, in that way. She’d be thrilled to know these sculptures are now situated outside this great new learning facility.”
“Libraries are centers of education and also of culture,” said Shelley. “Our library already has a lot of arts programming, and we regularly display art in the building. It’s great to be able to add public art that’s accessible all the time.”
Bader added that the city’s upcoming budget likely will include a full-time cultural services manager whose first task will be to create “an actual public art program rather than the random, piecemeal one we’ve had for too long.”
The Mary Granger Sculpture Garden at the Vancouver Community Library features four pieces:
• “Winged Woman” by Elizabeth Heron
• “Glyph Singer no. 3” by James Lee Hansen
• “Wheel Series 1998” by Don Wilson
• “Spike Flower” by Manuel Izquierdo