Fish Sculpture Envy

Hey, Port Orchard. What’s that across Sinclair Inlet? Oh, it’s Bremerton’s latest venture in downtown renovation. A 14-foot tall fish reeling in a fisherman of about the same size. The fisherman is wearing waders as for stream fishing, so he must have wandered down from the Olympics.

I’m actually a little surprised Bremerton didn’t opt for a sculpture of a 14-foot squid flinging a hapless fisherman into a bucket. Don’t mind me. Slight case of sculpture envy.

The fish and fisherman artwork was the source of controversy last year when the city council approved the spending of $250,000 to have the statues created. The money was part of the budget for the Memorial Plaza project honoring the Navy and the shipyard. Critics said the expenditure was unseemly given the recession. The source of funding was a state grant for economic development. Council members defended their acceptance of the grant, saying if they turned it down, the money would go back into the same pot and be used by another city for a similar project.

Port Orchard had its chance at public art last year, when Southworth sculptor James Kelsey offered to create a 15-foot tall work of art for the Port Orchard waterfront. To fund the venture — the cost of the sculpture including Kelsey’s work was $66,000 — Kelsey formed a privately funded, for-profit organization, People for Public Art. He ran a fundraising campaign from Aug. 15 through Sept. 9.

The sculpture Kelsey proposed for Port Orchard was similar in style to his work outside the Bremerton Police station, a swooping crescent of stainless steel cradling a shiny orb. Other examples of Kelsey’s work can be found outside the Manchester Library, above the ramp to the Port Orchard foot ferry, outside the Norm Dicks Government Center, on the Olympic College Campus and at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds and Events Center.

Kelsey, making his pitch to the Port Orchard City Council said he wanted their city to enjoy the benefits of public art as has Bremerton, which is gaining a reputation for its fountains and sculptures.

“I love Port Orchard,” Kelsey said. “I haven’t liked the fact that there’s not a lot of public art in Port Orchard. I don’t want Port Orchard to get left behind.”

Unfortunately for art lovers, the capital campaign fell short of the goal and the sculpture was not built.

So, then, Port Orchard. Do you feel left behind? If so, do you think the city would do well to pursue grants for public art? Or do you like Kelsey’s private, for-profit model?

Oh, and tell me what kind of sculpture or other artistic installment you fancy for our fair city?

Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter

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