by Kirby Lindsay, posted 7 September 2011
Fremont has become known for its art work, with over 30 pieces of public art scattered ‘round the ‘hood. The best known, most beloved and most interactive must be the People Waiting For The Interurban, by Richard S. Beyer, installed in May 1978 – which means it also counts as our first.
And it started when a local artist created art to get granite paving stones installed for a small traffic triangle.
‘The Most Popular Design’
In a recent interview, Beyer admitted, “My reputation started with the ‘Interurban’.” Before and after it, he created and installed works in communities all over the U.S., and the world. Yet, The Interurban is, he said, “still the most popular design I made.”
In 1999, Beyer’s now late wife, Margaret Beyer, published a book called The Art People Love containing a catalogue of many of his major public art works, as well as stories, philosophies and details behind many of them – particularly The Interurban.
The statue came about, according to People Love, starting in 1975. The City made plans to brick the traffic island at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue but submitted a proposal to the Fremont Improvement Committee. They were informed that if the community did something ‘more’ with the site (benches, a sign, art, etc.) the Seattle Engineering Department would instead install granite pavers.
The book further related a suggestion by Beyer that Fremont’s artists submit ideas for the space, with a community vote to be held at a Fremont drinking establishment, the common electoral forum at that time. The winner could be awarded $50. A notice went out in the Fremont Forum, the local neighborhood newspaper (where Beyer often published stories, cartoons and illustrations) but no one submitted.
Time passed and the City engineers pressed for a decision. Beyer created a model for an art work – a ship rising out of the water with some people jumping off while others clutched one another in frozen inaction, to be called “Ship of Fools.” He also proposed a cougar, made of melted-down beer cans collected from a local recycling station. Finally, he had the idea of The Interurban.
Beyer presented his proposals to the Improvement Committee during a meeting, Margaret Beyer reported, with no clear mandate given. On the way out, a committee member offhandedly congratulated Beyer on The Interurban. “That settled it,” the book stated. Beyer built the statue – without the $50 prize money, but after collecting some modest donations from a few Fremont business owners, and an eventual $500 from the Washington State Arts Commission – and the City paved the triangle in granite.
He installed People Waiting For The Interurban (this is the official name – not to be confused with Monkeys Waiting For the Interurban, a small sculpture Beyer created later in response to an anonymous letter published in The Ballard Outlook newspaper complaining that the People look like apes) with scarcely any official sanction, and to quick popular acceptance.
Beyer In Fremont
Beyer, and Margaret, originally came from the East Coast. They moved to the Pacific Northwest so Beyer could pursue a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Washington. First for his children, and then as a relief from his studies, Beyer began to create small sculptures – and slowly discovered his art.
In 1968, the Beyers bought a studio in Fremont – an empty, cement-block paint shop at 118 N 35th St (no longer there.) There he carved sculptures, of granite and wood, then adding, in 1978, a foundry for aluminum and bronze. “I do think fondly of Fremont,” Beyer recalled in July 2011.
The Public And The Art In ‘Public Art’
The introduction to People Love begins, “Richard Beyer believes the public has good taste.” It continues, throughout the book, to press forward his passionate belief in art created for communities through partnerships between the artists and the people, to benefit and enhance, free of bureaucracy and forced competition between artists.
Beyer has created art works for many communities – from small towns to big cities – and done so in cooperation with the communities, rather than through governmental process. The Interurban came about almost in spite of the Seattle Arts Commission, and through self-finance. When Beyer received a partial payment – thanks to mostly private donors – part of those proceeds were given to the fledgling Fremont Arts Council (FAC) to fund other projects.
Beyer often fights the bureaucratic efforts to dictate about art in public places. He does support efforts to unite artists, like at the FAC, “to have the institutional background,” he recently reflected, “so the artists would have some organization.”
According to People Love, Beyer once argued, “Great art does not come from afar, it comes from the recognition of the artist in his own time in his own community. It comes from the cooperation of artists to meet the community’s aesthetic needs.”
Myths Behind The People Waiting For The Interurban
In People Love, Margaret Beyer addressed several legends about the statue and as recently as this year Beyer still support the book’s revelations – including giving credit to Bruce Crowley, an artist’s assistant paid through the Comprehensive Employment & Training Act (CETA,) with the inspiration of the man-faced-dog.
The book also described, without giving a name, a local FAC detractor who claimed to be the subject of the face. The book stated that he then accused Beyer of demeaning him, and finally, “the naysayer complained to the press, gaining coverage which is now legend.”
“Rich has always said the dog in the sculpture personifies the person who wants a free ride,” People Love stated. It tells several stories, including how, immediately after the unveiling, in 1978, some men from “the tavern” came over and tied a yellow rope around the neck of the dog, anchoring him to a telephone pole so the dog catcher wouldn’t take him away.
As for another, resurgent rumor, that Beyer filled the statue with wine bottles, he recently admitted he couldn’t be sure. People Love explained that The Interurban became his first work in cast aluminum, requiring his learning the medium – while building it – from Bob Mortenson. “It was convenient to put empty bottles into a sculpture,” Beyer recalled, “to hold up the form of the sculpture.” Over 33 years later, though, he couldn’t be sure if wood or bottles shape The Interurban.
The Art Fremont Loves
Rich Beyer left Fremont when he outgrew his studio, and now lives in New York. After Margaret’s passing, he remarried Dorothy Scholz who has shown the same admirable dedication to supporting his work, and eagerly collecting information to create a more comprehensive, and current, catalogue.
At such a distance, Scholz admitted, she and Beyer miss seeing the creative decorations that enhance and celebrate this work. If you have photos for sharing, either current or historic, Fremocentrist.com can collect them at firstname.lastname@example.org for forwarding for the enjoyment of Beyer and Scholz.
Beyer gave Fremont an interesting, engaging and inspirational work – that may never be fully finished as the community continues to give it their own touches. The work endures as few others have, and it is to be hoped that so will our gving credit to the man who made it possible.
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Thank you to Santoro Books for locating a copy of The Art People Love by Margaret Beyer, which made research possible for this column!
©2011 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.