The Art Inventory

Fremont Public Art Inventory, Part VI: The Big Ones

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 13 January 2012


'People Waiting For The Interurban' by Rich Beyer Photo by Marisol Munguia, March 2008

This installment of the on-going inventory of public art in Fremont will focus on three of our best known works, and two adjacent yet almost unknown pieces.  The ‘big three’ also count as the three most interactive pieces, which begs the question – is there a relationship between the ability of passer-by to interact with art, and its popularity?

People Waiting For The Interurban

Installed: May 1978  Artist: Richard Beyer  This cast aluminum sculpture of six people, and a dog, waiting for a streetcar that never arrives (at a spot where the streetcar never had a stop) was created by Beyer, who often argued on behalf of community, and our right to choose our art.  “Great art…,” he is quoted, “…comes from the cooperation of artists to meet the community’s aesthetic needs.”

Plaque on 'People Waiting...' and 'Pergola' art works Photo by K. Lindsay, Apr 2011

Read more about Beyer, and his art, in Margaret Beyer’s book called ‘The Art People Love,’ and in the column from September 2011.  Location:  southeast corner of N 34th Street at Fremont Ave N.


Installed: 1979  Artist: Peter Larson  The Pergola stands as a shelter, a lighting source for the ‘People Waiting…’ sculpture, and a separate piece of art.  Yet, the community barely acknowledges the lovely structure, and when the City of Seattle relocated the ‘People Waiting…’ for roadway construction (in 2006,) the community demanded a say in site selection and the relocation plans.  Meanwhile, the City took the Pergola away, brought it back, and no comments were made.

The Pergola, by Peter Larson Photo by K. Lindsay, Jan 2012

Another note, a plaque on the base of the Pergola credits the artists, and mentions funding.  The Seattle Arts Commission, and the City of Seattle, did partially fund construction of the ‘Pergola,’ but not the ‘People Waiting…’  It also gives the installation date of both pieces as 1979, although the Beyers gave the sculpture date as 1978.  Location:  surrounding the ‘People Waiting…’ sculpture at N 34th Street near Fremont Ave N.

Late for the Interurban

Installed: August 17, 2008  Artist: Kevin Pettelle  This sculpture rarely gets mentioned by its proper name.  Instead, locals call it ‘the J.P. Patches and Gertrude statue,’ and others might say, ‘the two clowns dancing.’

The 'Late for the Interurban' statue by Kevin Pettelle - the brochure in 'Gertrude's' hand provided by an unknown visitor Photo by K. Lindsay, Jan 2012

Pettelle won the commission to build a sculpture after Carl Lovgren, Bryan Johnston and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided they wanted to honor two local legends, and television pioneers.  Pettelle can take credit for the well-captured images of J.P., Gertrude, the ICU2TV, ‘Esmeralda,’ and other details, large and small, from the show, and how they incorporate into this work.  “It was an insane deadline,” Pettelle admitted recently, “I did about 2 years of work in 9 months.”  Extensive research, new technologies, and miniscule details all took time although, he observed, “the challenges I hit turned out to be assets.”

“Usually when I get involved in a project, I immerse myself in it,” Pettelle said, and he did the same here although, “I grew up with the show.”  Still, he re-watched hours of the show, and spent time with Chris Wedes and Bob Newman, who realized these characters.  Then he crafted details, such as the button hooks, that deliberately engage visitors.  “The main thing,” Pettelle said of his art, “is the community, and the ways they can interact with it.”

Artist Kevin Pettelle with scaled models of his 'Late for the Interurban' sculpture Photo provided by Kevin Pettelle

Finally, Pettelle chose the name of the sculpture as “a tilt of the hat to Rich [Beyer],” explained Pettelle, “it’s an homage.”  Location:  northwest corner of the Lakeview Building, at 837 N 34th St.

The Fremont Troll

Installed:  October 31, 1990  Artists: Steve Badanes with Will Martin, Donna Walter and Ross Whitehead.  When the Fremont Arts Council (FAC) sought to install art in Fremont, they chose as the site a bit of unused property where the George Washington Memorial Bridge meets the land – at what has since been named Troll Avenue.

The Fremont Troll, in Oct 2011, during seismic retrofit work by WSDOT. Photo by K. Lindsay

Through a public ‘call to artists’ process, the FAC solicited proposals.  Pettelle recently admitted he submitted a piece, and didn’t get the commission.  Instead, a professor – Badanes – and some students at the University of Washington conceived the idea of a troll, and a public vote at the 1990 Fremont Fair chose them as the winners.  Twenty-one years later, the piece remains a popular favorite.  Location:  the north side of N 36th St at Troll Ave.

The Hall of Giants

Installed: 1931  Artist/Engineer: Captain Ralph Ober  Like the ‘Pergola,’ debate can commence on the artistic status of ‘The Hall of Giants,’ the nickname given by FAC members to architectural details of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, a.k.a. Aurora, as viewed from The Fremont Troll.

The view of 'The Hall of Giants' by the Fremont Troll Photo by K. Lindsay, Jan 2010

The Seattle engineering firm of Jacobs & Ober is credited with the original bridge design, yet Ober received a primary credit for the structure at his death, in 1931, before the state had completed construction.  One obituary, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, described the bridge as “the greatest monument to his engineering genius.”

Visitors to the Fremont Troll witness that genius by spinning around.  With back to The Troll, look south, down Troll Avenue, to see this breath-taking, geometric marvel – suggesting that Ober had considered the view to be enjoyed, daily, by all those who would live, work and play beneath the roadway.

A reverse view of 'The Hall Of Giants,' looking north Photo by K. Lindsay, Summer 1997

A seismic retrofit of the bridge, begun in 2011 and scheduled to conclude in Fall of 2012, by the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has made both the Troll and the Hall… difficult to see, and/or visit.  According to official reports, the completed work shall not change the appearance of either piece of ‘art.’  For information on this project, visit the WSDOT website.  For information on the Aurora Bridge, and Captain Ober, read the HistoryLink article by Priscilla Long.  Location:  Troll Ave, facing south at N 36th.

While the media, and fans, tend to focus on a few, specific Fremont art works, the community here has never distinguished certain pieces as more important, or less important, than the others.  Instead, each piece has its supporters, its care givers and, always, a certain number among the community that think it must be the most over-hyped bit of nonsense the Center of the Universe contains.

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©2011 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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