A whale of a sculpture destined for Port Angeles

Alex Anderson of Port Angeles is the creator of this 16-foot-long whale vertebra sculpture. Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

Alex Anderson of Port Angeles is the creator of this 16-foot-long whale vertebra sculpture. Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A whale of an art project could be on display at the Port Angeles waterfront as soon as Labor Day.

Artist Alex Anderson, owner of Alex Anderson Concrete in Port Angeles, plans to install a giant 16-foot-long, 20,000-pound polished concrete replica of a whale vertebra at Valley Creek Estuary Park near the historic marker at the end of Cherry Street in downtown Port Angeles.

The sculpture is 12 feet tall and 4 feet thick. It is designed with a 4.5-foot-wide hole in the middle where children can climb through.

“The center part normally would be solid” in a whale, Anderson said Tuesday as he showed off the sculpture near its temporary location outside an Agnew-area barn.

“Then your spinal cord would run through this part here,” he said, pointing to a smaller opening just above the 4-foot-wide opening.

Anderson based the sculpture on gray whale bones he saw at the Makah Cultural and Research Museum at Neah Bay.

But it isn’t anatomically correct.

‘Artistic freedom’

Anderson said he granted himself “a little artistic freedom” for his creation, which he designed to be interactive and climbed upon.

Part of the sculpture will serve as a bench, he said.

“Most sculpture is hands-off, and we wanted this to be more hands-on. Kids love it,” he said.

The concrete surface of the vertebra is rough and scalloped in some areas and polished glassy-smooth in other areas.

Small native stones — mixed in as part of the concrete — dot the surface of the polished sections.

Port Angeles Recreation Services Manager Richard Bonine and Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said Wednesday that the project has been approved for installation.

Charles Smith, chairman of the Art on the Town Committee, is working with Anderson on the $65,000 project.

Smith said the art project “fits with the Northwest and the marine theme we have in this community.”

An anonymous donor paid for the project, Anderson said.

In his business, Alex Anderson Concrete, he handles foundation and industrial work, but the vertebra sculpture is not his first foray into the art world.

The Joyce native — who has a master’s degree in fine art from the University of Oregon as well as a bachelor’s degree from the Kansas City Art Institute — said he has other art projects at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, and he also poured concrete for the 9/11 memorial at Francis Street Park.

To create the concrete vertebra, he first had to make a wooden version of it — called a “plug” — using laminated particle board.

He shaped the wooden vertebra into the desired form and then made a fiberglass mould of it.

He then filled the empty mould with rebar and concrete to make the final sculpture.

He plans to use a crane to load the sculpture on a truck for transport to the waterfront, where the sculpture will be bolted in place.

“We’re about 3 1/2 years into it right now,” he said of the project, “mostly working on the weekends in the wintertime when we’re not busy with regular concrete work.”

Photos of the construction process can be seen at Anderson’s website, www.alexandersonconcrete.com. Click on the “More” button to access the photos.

To reach Alex Anderson Concrete, phone 360-452-6659.

Reporter Chris Tucker can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at chris.tucker@peninsuladailynews.com.

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