Public art, art commission, needed
A citizen’s view
September 21, 2022
By Jean Walker-Wharton
The celebration and dedication of new public art on Sept. 3 demonstrated the behind-the-scenes work of the La Conner Arts Commission. Sheila Johnson, chair, invited my attendance. I asked John Leaver to go for me and to express my gratitude for the commission’s dedication; and for people responsible in the inception on my property in 2005, of Tracey Powell’s and Stan O’Neil’s artisan fence structure as well as those who dismantled its 18 feet and have beautifully brought its components back to life in the last two years. Installation is expected in 2022 in the butterfly garden.
Gratitude expressed publicly has functioned as a life force for good in these pandemic years. The arts commission carries on millennia of advanced societies’ promotion of public art. These include native American totem poles that raise the spirits of our own town and region. Such art is timeless. The commission provides mind and heart sustenance for all ages and all financial haves and have-nots. Viewers’ imaginations are stimulated far beyond the moments they spend here.
Expressing gratitude, I acknowledge the original artists. Tracy Powell, our local, internationally famous carver. His double-sided Tudor Rose’s near aspect will draw numerous visitors to enter the butterfly garden. Its far side will be visible from First Street below and from across the channel. Vital connections.
Stan O’Neil’s exact highly accomplished iron work combines antique and new structures, providing accompaniment as if the iron roses are proud to be there.
None of this work would have become a public piece without careful nurturing and fortuitous help. Brian Lease, public works director, arrived promptly camera ready when I called on Jan. 15, 2021 to ask his advice. Within days, I had a call from John Leaver, then a councilmember, telling me to ignore the town administrator’s letter sent to my P.O. Box. That letter, a “thanks no thanks” message, I filed, as Mr. Leaver continued to promote the “fence” with the arts commission, with the Civic Garden Club and stayed active on every front to get the 18 feet into public view in the butterfly garden.
Meanwhile, the painstaking dismantling of the fence, avoiding damage to any part, was accomplished by Tony Larrabee. His familiar ancestral name is found on our Larabee State Park. And the months-long, gifted restoration of each part, including the recovered lumber beam from the University of Victoria, proceeded in the capable hands of our local Canadian, Henry Gunterman, Tony will re-assemble the structure with Henry’s support.
We are mightily blessed to be living on the lands of the Coast Salish peoples, past and present. Our various traditions freely greet us only because the arts commission, civic garden club, parks commission and Town of La Conner officials respond to prompts by residents.
Most recently Mr. Leaver secured Robert Nash as “artistic supervisor” for the installation of the fence. In such good hands and with multiple agencies’ blessings, the public is well served. We need art.
Wharton is a decades long La Conner resident.