The return of Grace
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
From afar, “Grace” appears to be a non-sentient assemblage of welded sheet metal, but the sinewy sculpture currently perched atop a familiar hunk of industrial waste near Taylor Dock has led a storied life.
Created more than a decade ago by a then-underemployed Bellingham resident who was intent on finally learning how to use the welding machine that had been taking up space in their garage for more than 15 years, “Grace” wasn’t so much a work of art as she was an experiment.
To wit: After her completion, the anonymous welder didn’t try to sell the 400-pound sculpture or work with a gallery to exhibit it. Instead, an extremely risky guerrilla install on a dark October night placed “Grace” on the aforementioned island of compressed cans—and in the direct sightline of the many pedestrians, bicyclists, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes and other assorted two- and four-legged beings that daily traverse the scenic waterfront trail leading from downtown Bellingham to historic Fairhaven.
In an interview with this paper in the fall of 2011, the rogue artist explained that although they were well aware they hadn’t followed protocols that would’ve required proposals, grant requests and the like to bring their vision to fruition, they were hoping their illegal actions would at the very least spark a discussion about whether a work of art affixed to that island would be a worthy one. The installation was meant to be temporary, they said, and would be removed when time had taken its toll.
“‘Grace’ doesn’t care two boiled farts about coal trains, or elections, or even the devastating impacts of rogue orcas savaging our rural farmlands,” they said at the time. “She’s just a slightly prettier bit of metal sitting on a rock-shaped hunk of metal. I hope people enjoy her, but I don’t presume her to be the definitive answer to the question of, ‘What weird thing can we bolt to this rock?’ To that end, and in recognition that paper-thin sheet metal will not likely cotton to a coastal environment, I plan to take her down once rust and time have won their day. I’ll promise that within five years (but likely much sooner) I’ll remove her, leave those bomb-proof bolts in place, and allow this City of Subdued Excitement to find a better answer to the question than the one I so hastily provided.”
The five-year window was indeed truncated. The following October, “Grace” was removed by the artist when it became clear she was turning into a “splotchy mess of rust and rivets.” Still believing that the pedestal she had been placed upon was a worthy one for public art, they provided the City of Bellingham’s Arts Commission with a template for the bolts left epoxied on the island, with the hope that a more permanent work would be secured.
Ten years later, a replacement still hadn’t been found when “Grace” recently reappeared on the bayside perch. While on shore leave, the artist reports she toured several hippie conclaves, attended a few raves, visited three states and had a number of bird species take up residence in her nether-regions. But at least for now, it appears, she’s on the rock to stay.
“I don’t have anything profound to offer as a backstory,” the still-mysterious welder said last week. “She’s pretty much the same sculpture and the same thrown gauntlet I dropped a decade ago; She’ll rust badly enough in four or five years, while still remaining structurally stout in her chassis, that I think the City or the next donor, if any, will feel compelled to craft a more cosmetic replacement for her. That was always the goal of this prank and remains so. Either way, ‘Grace’ is now the property of the City of Bellingham.
“[I hope] the City has some patience with this repeat offender. I’ve promised to deliver staff a diagram to unlock the riddle of her reappearance upon that angry bollard of tin, an owner’s manual of sorts, if they should need to take her down.
“She was given tacit approval from the two previous mayors, and inspected by Public Works staff for quality control, so I might hope that both the allowance and reprimand against ‘guerrilla art’ of this sort still applies. It was and remains an illegal donation, but this time it is a permanent one. I accept the City’s decision, either way.”
Photo of a recently reinstalled “Grace” by Doug Starcher.
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