The massive lioness gazed over the mouth of Doe Bay for four decades, sunk back on her mighty haunches, watching over her domain from the bluff. She stood fast through wind-blown salt spray and drizzling rain, her wooden flanks slowly fading to grey, and never left her post.
“[She] used to be more or less the protector of Otter Cove and the entrance to Doe Bay,” said Doe Bay employee Jenny Rosen.
Then she vanished.
“The lion disappeared sometime shortly before I closed on the purchase of Doe Bay about seven years ago,” said current owner Joe Brotherton. The original lioness was never found.
Seven years later, Brotherton found that the carved lioness had been very special to the boys of Seattle’s Holt family, who have spent their summers at Doe Bay since the early 1980’s.
“My parents were teachers, so we were very lucky to be able to spend that time there together,” said Andy Holt. “It was always the highlight of our summer… Doe Bay really felt like a second home to me.”
“In 1996, me and my brother noticed the rot that was eating away at the original lion was getting worse, and we dreamed about how nice it would be to restore the lion for Doe Bay if it ever rotted away completely. So, we took some pictures to capture the detail of the lion, documenting it and providing scale by standing next to it, so that someone would be able to restore it in the future.”
Little did they know that photos would soon be all that could be found of the lioness.
“I had been thinking about this in recent years, after the original lion disappeared,” said Andy. When he met chainsaw artist Tomas Vrba at a carving exhibition in Sedro-Wooley he knew he had finally met someone who could re-sculpt the lioness.
The Holt brothers supplied Vrba with their old photos, and he carefully created a replica from a new log: life-sized, about five feet tall and seven feet long from whiskers to tail, her jaws, torso and legs sculpted with spare, totem-like lines.
Andy’s mom, Teresa Holt, said that in the 1989 book “The Ferryboat Islands” by Gordon Keith, there is a picture of the Doe Bay lioness with the following caption: “In 1958 a female artist (name unknown) armed with a chainsaw, carved this lion’s likeness out of a fallen log, as a means of protecting the shores of Doe Bay from some of those early storms.”
“(Vrba) had a lot of respect for the original artist,” said Andy. “He said that it wasn’t just some random person with a chainsaw; there was a lot of artistry and skill involved in making the original piece. The skill level it must’ve taken made him think that it was someone who was involved with boat building.”
“For me, this project is like restoring a part of my childhood,” said Andy. “I played on the lion when I was a child, and I remember sitting at its feet as a teenager looking out at the waves… I remember sitting there at night and looking at the stars. With the lion sitting behind you, you felt protected – which is what the original artist’s intent was, I think. With the lion gone, it feels like something is missing. I really want to bring that presence back to Doe Bay, because I want the place, and the people who visit it to be protected also.”
On Nov. 8, the mighty lioness was set back on her feet, ready again to watch, and ready to roar if need arise.
“Even though I spearheaded the project, the lion is a gift to Doe Bay from the entire Holt family,” Andy said.