By Susannah Beck for the Orcas Island Historical Museum
The face of downtown Eastsound is about to get much more interesting this coming week, as a major new sculpture by local artist Todd Spalti is installed in front of the Orcas Island Historical Museum.
Titled “Tribute,” the massive 14’ 3” sculpture depicts Spalti’s interpretation of a Tlingit creation story featuring Heron, Raven, Raven’s sister, and a red-hot stone. It is carved in red cedar in both European and Northwest Coast carving styles. From the front, the dominant feature of the piece is the head and neck of Heron holding a metal ball in its beak. On the back is a life-size vignette of Raven and two human figures emerging from a shade of stones and leaves.
Spalti, 51, a 30-odd-year resident of Orcas Island, had wanted to build “something big” on the site for the past several years, and has worked with an anonymous donor to bring the piece to life. “We wanted a show-stopper, something really amazing that would bring people into the museum, and get the community excited about art, and especially public art, in the islands,” said museum Board President Bill Buchan on Thursday. “The installation of ‘Tribute’ is also a great educational opportunity for local kids and art lovers, and we plan to partner with the schools and the Funhouse to follow up with carving classes, lectures, and more.”
The piece was designed so that the ball in Heron’s beak can be switched out every year, with the plan for an annual island-wide, all-ages call-for-artists to compete to fill the spot, for what amounts to showing new work in very unusual gallery space. “It’ll be a great way to get local people involved with art, and it will also keep ‘Tribute’ fresh and visible after everyone’s kind of blind to it and used to seeing it,” Spalti said.
The sculpture was built from several pieces of a single old growth cedar tree that Spalti salvaged from the Trapper Creek Wilderness area near the Columbia Gorge six years ago. It was carved using traditional adzes and knives as well as modern tools. “Whatever you can get a hold of to make a neat form, I’ll use,” says Spalti, who also works in metal and stone.
While the outside of the piece is worked with fine hand carving, the inside of the piece is held together with large threaded rods, bolts, and steel plate. The museum even hired an engineering firm to confirm the imposing structure’s soundness.
The work of art is a donation by a local anonymous donor and the artist. Several local contractors are also donating time and equipment to help get the giant piece installed. Work on the concrete pad that supports the base of the two-thousand pound sculpture is already underway. John Willis, Ron Montgomery, and Al Minnis provided early digging and forms work, while Rocky Arnt at Sea Island Sand and Gravel provided the concrete. Dave Hall’s Boom Truck Services is scheduled to maneuver ‘Tribute’ into place on Monday, June 28. A reception for the artist is planned in the weeks following the installation.