‘Seaman’ statue repaired after vandals strike

Creator restores beloved sculpture in Reflection Plaza

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A “before and after” photo shows “Seaman,” the bronze sculpture of a Newfoudland dog at Washougal’s Reflection Plaza, vandalized with red, white and blue paint (left) in January 2024, and restored to its previous state by artist Heather Soderberg Greene (right) Feb. 14, 2024. (Contributed photo courtesy of Heather Soderberg Greene)

One of Washougal’s most visible public art installations has been restored after receiving an unwelcome new coat of paint last month.

Heather Soderberg Greene, a Cascade Locks, Oregon-based artist, traveled to Washougal on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, to show some love for her creation, “Seaman,” the bronze sculpture of a Newfoundland dog that has stood in downtown Washougal’s Reflection Plaza since 2015.

Molly Coston, the president of the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance president and a member of the Washougal City Council, told other city officials on Feb. 12, that the sculpture had been vandalized.

“It was painted with oil-based paints — the whole face red, white and blue. It was very, very obvious. It’s really very ugly. It’s unfortunate,” Coston said. “This, of course, reminds us that we do need to maintain all of our public artwork, which is an expense for the City.”

The Washougal Police Department (WPD) said they have no leads or suspects, but that the vandalism occurred over the New Year’s holiday.

“On. Jan. 3, I was made aware of a cold (case of) malicious mischief at Reflection Plaza. I was told the dog statue ‘Seaman’ had been painted,” Washougal police officer Kyle Kinnan stated in a police report.

“Upon my arrival, I found (the sculpture’s) face painted red, white and blue (and) took photographs of the damage. … Looking around, I did not see any businesses with security cameras. I contacted the employees at Mary Jane’s (House of Glass), as they were closest to the damaged statue. They confirmed they did not have cameras that would pick up the location of the statue,” Kinnan stated in the report. “They did tell me the statue was already painted on Jan. 1, when they arrived at work in the morning and believed it was a New Year’s Eve prank.”

Green used metalworking tools to remove the sculpture’s patina — a colored film on the surface of the bronze that is produced by oxidation over time — and apply a new one.

“Because of the age and weathering of the statue, I couldn’t just fix his face where the vandalism was done,” she said. “First, I took a large propane torch and superheated the metal, burning off all debris, wax and clear-coat. The largest problem was the paint used for vandalizing was industrial heat-resistant paint. That was a major problem and took a lot of work removing. I had to use a pneumatic buffer to take it off.”

Once she’d cleaned the sculpture, Green applied a fresh patina.

“I airbrushed a black patina oxide that chemically permeates the hot bronze, turning it black,” she said. “Once the metal was cool to the touch, I sealed the whole statue with a clear lacquer. When that was completely dry, I waxed the statue to protect the patina and clear-coat from the elements.”

Greene said she was “very sad and disheartened to hear” that her sculpture had been vandalized.

“I have been very fortunate, and this was the first time it has happened to my statues,” she said. “I am mostly very sad for the person that damaged him. I am sure they would be very hurt if someone destroyed something that they created. I truly hope that maybe instead of vandalizing other people’s work and property that maybe they would take that energy and put it towards creation and finding an outlet in their own painting — they seem to like colors. Creating art soothes all of my anxiety, pain and uncertainty in the world right now, and I wish for everyone struggling to be able to find a source of comfort.”

Greene created the sculpture, which depicts Seaman, the only animal to complete the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s, in 2015. WACA purchased and installed the structure later that year.