Earlier this year The Advocate spoke with Hester Coucke, the curator and a long-term employee of the Art Center in Corvallis who has witnessed many sculptures commissioned and realized around town.
“There is a sculpture [installation] starting at Central Park and ending at the Riverfront along Madison Avenue. A lot of that was the initiative of the Madison Avenue Task Force (MATF). The MATF was a group of volunteers that wanted to create a pedestrian friendly corridor from downtown to campus,” Coucke said, recalling the creation of the visual art and poetry hanging on the brick walls.
But what is out there and who made it?
The Ballerina and the Squirrels
Near the Art Center, currently in restoration, there is a sculpture of a ballerina and one of a squirrel. ”The Ballerina was placed in her spot in 1979; it was the first public artwork on Madison Avenue,” Coucke said. “The Ballerina and the squirrel were made by Raymond Hunter, a local sculptor from Kings Valley.”
Hunter also made the second squirrel for the Art Center Plaza.
“The first generation [squirrels] (1983) were very similar, made of bronze, and once there were two, both perched on benches on the plaza,” Coucke said. “Since then, the position and number of benches has changed, and to secure the squirrels better [they] were anchored in the rock.”
Anchored or not, the squirrels got away.
“At some sad point,” Coucke said,“one squirrel disappeared and never turned up, the second one was removed, but showed up again, until that one also disappeared.“
In the early 90s, a tricky piece of art showed up.
“Close to the plaza we have ‘Clever Disguise’ by Peter Helzer from Eugene, placed in 1993,” Coucke said. “From one side it looks like a person in boots, a big coat and a hat. Seen from the other side it turns out to be a few fantasy animals, looking like an alligator and a rat, pulling a prank. Peter Helzer also has sculpture in the Corvallis Library: Gargoyles (looking like rodents again) on the wall, [and] a group of stacked dancing turtles.”
“The dog is called Cassidy,” said Coucke. “[It’s] made in bronze by Sue McNeil Jacobsen from Moscow, Idaho, [and] placed in 2004 as a gift from the MATF to the City. Another version of the dog was in an exhibit at The Arts Center called ‘Animals, Animals, Animals,’ where people really responded to her, not only people, even dogs!”
The Bowl came after the dog.
“Later the bowl was commissioned, so that dogs would have a bowl to drink water from on a hot day. All Stars Sports promised at that time to make sure the bowl was filled with water every day.A few years ago, a tree next to the sculpture got uprooted and fell over during a windstorm. Luckily, the tree missed Cassidy!”
“Further down, just around the corner in the alley is ‘Ascending,’ a bronze made by Tim Foley in 1999. It is a frog-like creature, climbing up the wall with exaggerated fingers. It was unveiled by a young girl dressed as a princess (of course!).”
And how did the princess come by her frog?
“The Frog is part of the Alley Art Program for which the MATF and The Arts Center wrote a joint federal grant,” Coucke said.
“Another animal in the Alley Art program is ‘The Squatter,’ by Michigan artist Rich Branstrom (1996), made from found objects, the body being an old vacuum cleaner. Originally, we wanted to move the fly around town, but it turned out that not all property owners were enthusiastic about holes being drilled in the facades of their buildings.”
The Sea Otters and The River of Life.
“The history of the Riverfront Park is a long one,” said Coucke, as the landscape was finally finished in the fall of 2002, soon the sculptures appeared. ”There are a few sea otters by Peter Helzer. They are intentionally placed so kids could interact with them. At that time, his daughter was still a small girl, which inspired him to make this sculpture.”
The pioneer women and girl had more realistic companions. It is Louise McDowell’s ‘The River of Life’ created in 2002.
“On top of the black and white masts are more animal sculptures by Miles Pepper, also from Moscow, Idaho,” Coucke said. “They are kinetic [powered by wind], and still work after 20+ years! The black and white masts stand for paddle [wheel] boat chimneys, on a horizontal plane there are silhouettes of fish, on top are geese, kingfisher, and osprey [in the]three sets.
“The idea was that if the sun shines, there is a shadow on the pavement where you see the birds chasing the fish. All species are common at the Willamette River, and the paddle [wheel] boat reference goes back to the early 1900’s when there was active traffic on the Willamette at the riverfront.”