A bear is coming to downtown Washougal.
Local residents have no reason to fear, however. This bear is made of bronze and deemed “family friendly” by its creator, Cascade Locks, Oregon artist Heather Soderberg.
The Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA) recently purchased “Dreaming,” Soderberg’s bronze sculpture of a grizzly bear, with the intention of donating it to the city of Washougal.
WACA board member Chuck Carpenter said the 400-pound sculpture will be installed at the southwest corner of the Pendleton Way and “A” Street intersection in early October.
“This life-sized bear is amazing in its character and detail and is certain to become a community and visitor favorite,” Carpenter said in a news release issued by WACA. “Like the bronze ‘Seaman’ sculpture in Reflection Plaza, this too will be large enough for people to sit with for pictures and will add more charm and interest to our downtown.”
WACA has been fundraising for more than a year to purchase the $30,000 “Dreaming” sculpture. Money raised for the purchase came from the city’s lodging tax funds, WACA membership fees, individual donations (including a “substantial contribution” from Washougal residents Jim and Betty Cooper) and fundraising events, including the Washougal Arts festival held in August.
Suzanne Grover, the city’s parks and cemetery program manager, said the art sculpture will add to the city’s public art offerings and is on the city’s “art walk” tour.
Soderberg, owner of the Soderberg Gallery and Studio in Cascade Locks, has designed other public art for Washougal, including the “Seaman” sculpture in Reflection Plaza and the “Chak Chak American Eagle” at Washougal Waterfront Park.
She started work on the bear sculpture about six years ago “just for fun.”
“I had been working on some crazy, stressful projects,” Soderberg said, “and I wanted to work on a piece that was more relaxing.”
Like most of Soderberg’s pieces, “Dreaming” was inspired by her love of nature.
“I love being out on the water, kayaking, fishing and watching the wildlife,” she said. “I’m pretty much a solitary person, and I love being alone in the outdoors. The (abundance of) wildlife in this area is amazing”
Shortly after starting work on the sculpture, Soderberg ran into a bear — almost literally — while out for a hike in Cascade Locks.
“I heard a crashing sound, and a bear jumped onto the trail right in front of me. It was massive,” she said. “It stared at me, then started to run away, and it curved back around to come up from behind me, and I turned and ran back down the trail. I wasn’t scared, but I was a little nervous.
“I had already started working on (‘Dreaming’) at that point, but I decided to make it a little bigger after seeing how big they are up close.”
A few months ago, the sculpture attracted the interest of Joyce Lindsay, a former Washougal resident, city councilor and WACA board member who moved to Bellingham, Washington in 2018.
“Joyce stopped by the studio and saw the bear and fell in love with it,” Carpenter said. “She talked us into (pursuing) it. She thought it’d be a great addition to the city.”
Soderberg describes the sculpture as “whimsical.”
“There’s a fun look on its face,” she said. “I wanted to make it look friendly and peaceful and happy so that kids wouldn’t be scared when they see it. The coloring is warm and golden and pretty. And it’s very interactive. Kids can climb on its lap and take their picture with it without hurting it. It’s indestructible.”
The indestructibility of bronze is one of the factors that attracted Soderberg to the medium.
Soderberg learned the trade from her father, who worked in a foundry in Flagstaff, Arizona, when she was growing up. Soderberg created more than 100 sculptures by the time she was 2 years old, according to her website. She went on to become one of the first women in the United States to own a bronze foundry.
“I was pretty much born into it,” said Soderberg, who’s currently sculpting what’s believed to be the world’s largest bronze statue of a bald eagle. “I played with a lot of different mediums when I was younger, but I love the history of bronze, the science, the chemistry, the technical aspects. I love sculpting and creating. I love that it’s hands-on and that I can do it all myself. Growing up in a foundry helped a lot because I know the entire process.”