On day one, a dull, shapeless head stared blankly at onlookers.
By day five, the listless, melted features had been transformed into the face of Friday Harbor founder Edward Warbass.
For six hours a day, during five consecutive days, Gareth Curtiss molded part of a new town statue at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Observers could watch the artist from inside the glass atrium facing Spring Street or simply pass by the translucent workspace.
The process allowed residents to form an intimate connection with not only the content of the art but the sculpture itself.
“In addition to offering an educational opportunity, [the demonstration allowed] the community to connect with a public art project that is very personal to Friday Harbor,” said Julie Greene, the town’s executive assistant.
By this summer, the clay pieces will be a life-size bronze statue of Warbass sitting on a bench, reading the newspaper and petting his dog Bob. The bench, which has room for others to sit on, will be placed near the entrance of Sunshine Alley in Friday Harbor, facing the founders’ namesake, Warbass Way.
Forming the clay base is the first step to create the bronze statue. Most of the sculpting will be done in Curtiss’ studio in Shelton, Washington, with the casting completed at his foundry in Montana. The artist opted to spend five days working on the island to connect with residents, simultaneously delivering a performance piece while creating the public’s statue in the window-framed Atrium Gallery.
“[Visitors] were fascinated by the process and felt comfortable asking Gareth questions,” said Diane Martindale, co-president of the museum’s board and member of the Friday Harbor Arts Council. “… Several artists in the last four years [have created] installations in this space. Because it is glass, the public is able to watch the installation develop.”
The council helped to select Curtiss in 2017 for the town’s commissioned piece. Curtiss has completed almost 50 similar sculptures throughout the country, but the town’s work, said Martindale, will be unique to its culture.
“Public art, whether permanent or temporary, serious or playful, makes a statement about what people value and enlivens public spaces,” she said.
With the permanent addition to the town, residents will be able to learn about local history, while enjoying the statue’s aesthetics. Warbass helped to found Friday Harbor, as well as split the islands from Whatcom County to form San Juan County.
The Friday Harbor Arts Council also oversaw the Sunken Park mural and the stone benches in Spring Street’s pocket park.
The more varied pieces, said Martindale, the more perspectives fill the town.
“For me,” she said, “art of all types always helps [to] see the world through someone else’s eyes.”