Council considers Old Town art sculpture

At Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, the council once again takes up an issue it last tackled with the proposal to put a Brother Asaiah statue at WKFL Park. Should the city accept a donation of art to go in a public park?

The council will consider a resolution accepting Rachelle Dowdy’s fanciful-loon sculpture to be placed at Bishop’s Beach Park. The public can comment in writing or in person during the “public comments upon matters already on the agenda” part of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting at 6 p.m. in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall. 

At 5:30 p.m. today, the Parks and Recreation Commission also discusses the sculpture at its meeting at City Hall. The city council considered accepting the sculpture at its June 23 meeting, but referred the issue back to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Public Arts Committee. The Parks and Recreation Commission at its June 19 meeting had voted down a motion to approve and recommend placement of the sculpture in the park. The Public Arts Committee at its Aug. 14 meeting unanimously approved accepting the donation.

Bunnell Street Arts Center commissioned Dowdy’s sculpture as part of a two-year $150,000 ArtPlace America grant that funded public art and artists residencies. Earlier this month, artist Marjorie Scholl unveiled “Old Town Memoir,” a mural on the Fat Olives Restaurant wall. Other public art includes a fireweed mural painted by Dan Coe on the Driftwood RV Park fence on Bunnell Avenue, a bench by Breezy Kallens by Bunnell Street Arts Center and poet Wendy Erd’s Poems in Place project along the Beluga Slough trail.
The ArtPlace America grant also funded residencies by African dancer and drummer Shelly and Soriba Fofana, performance artist Allison Warden, sculptor Adrian Segal and, for this September and October, artist Elizabeth Emery.

Ephemeral art pieces included Jarod Charzewski’s buoy sculpture on Bunnell’s front porch and “Looking for the Sublime at the End of the Road,” by James Riordan, Michael Gerace, and Jesus Landin-Torrez III, a sculpture on Bishop’s Beach.

“It’s definitely the capper, the cherry on the top of what on the whole has been a sweet and satisfying project,” said Bunnell director Asia Freeman of Dowdy’s sculpture.

Most of the Old Town public art has been on private
buildings. The Erd poems were installed using interpretive sign money for Beluga Slough trail improvements. Bunnell also supported a residency with Erd.

A committee of artists, city officials, community members and Bunnell staff selected proposals and residencies. Freeman said Dowdy’s proposal was one of 65 applications submitted from artists nationwide. She received $15,000 for the sculpture, including an artist’s fee and material costs. Dowdy is close to finishing the sculpture. The grant also includes $1,000 for future maintenance.

Now living in Anchorage, Dowdy received a bachelor of fine arts in 1996 from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has shown widely throughout Alaska, including a 2011 show at Bunnell, and has done several public art commissions. People are probably most familiar with “From Here to There and There to Here,” a collection of goose sculptures at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and “Wilderness, Wildlands and People,” four animal sculptures at the Anchorage Museum.

The Old Town loon sculpture is most similar in design and structure to the museum pieces. Dowdy’s sculptures often feature creatures in human poses or expressions. Her loon sculpture is about 8 or 9-feet tall with an arm holding a windsock on a 12-foot pole — “sort of an Egyptian feel,” Dowdy said of it.

Dowdy used the same ferroconcrete process for her loon as she did for the Anchorage Museum pieces. The base is a welded steel armature that’s covered in blueboard foam. Dowdy shaped the foam into the piece’s basic form and then wrapped it with metal lath and wire. 

“That’s like the first layer of skin and then it gets two layers of concrete,” she said.

The concrete is similar to that used on Alaska bridges, with latex instead of water to bind it together, she said. The latex makes the concrete flexible in cold and heat.

“It makes it a really durable, hard concrete,” Dowdy said. 

A nose and beak on the loon would be the most vulnerable parts of the sculpture, but Dowdy said she thinks it can stand up to someone hanging from it. The total piece weighs about 300 pounds.

Dowdy admits her sculptures at the airport and museum have been vandalized — “love vandalism,” she called it.

“They get loved to death. People would put their kids up on the shoulder to take a photo,” she said of the museum pieces. “People put clothes on them. … The museum was pretty upset at first. I said, ‘Take pictures, document it, put the clothes away.’ They’re being loved. I think that’s OK.”

One of the objections to putting Dowdy’s art in Bishop’s Beach Park was its location, said Robert Archibald, a Parks and Recreation Commission member. Three sites at the park are proposed: one near the parking lot, one between the restrooms and a picnic pavilion and one northeast of the pavilion on the edge of a grassy lawn near the boardwalk trail. Some people were concerned that site put it too close to the boardwalk, Archibald said. Parks and Recreation Commission members also had concerns about soil conditions and how well the sculpture’s concrete base would hold up.

“We didn’t want to see it go in and fall over,” Archibald said.

Public Works Director Carey Meyer said test holes were bored at possible sites. The lawn there is mostly fill, and a site in the fill would be best. He said a wider concrete base might work best to support the piece.

“I don’t see the foundation as a major problem,” Meyer said. “It ought to be located in a place where everybody can see it best, and then designed for the soils there.”

Freeman said she hopes Dowdy’s art becomes one more attraction to the Old Town neighborhood.

“That’s a major object: to brand and promote Homer and especially the neighborhood as a distinct place, as a place that has character,” she said. “Nothing can improve over nature, but in some ways it can bring attention to it. It can shine a light on it.”


“Fanciful loon” sculpture

Rachelle Dowdy


A 8- to 9-foot tall ferroconcrete sculpture to be installed at Bishop’s Beach Park

When and Where:

Public discussion, Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall; Homer City Council, 6 p.m. Monday, Cowles Council Chambers

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