Image courtesy of Kevin Pettelle
Sultan artist Kevin Pettelle found inspiration in the swifts themselves, as he has been impressed by their twice-yearly sojourn in MonroeGÇÖs Wagner Chimney.
Image courtesy of Kevin Pettelle Sultan artist Kevin Pettelle found inspiration in the swifts themselves, as he has been impressed by their twice-yearly sojourn in MonroeGÇÖs Wagner Chimney.


Following a unanimous vote by the Monroe City Council last week, the city will have a new work of art in its downtown core before Christmas.

The Monroe City Council approved the establishment of a public art policy last year, along with $10,000 in funding for an outdoor sculpture to be installed in the newly-renovated downtown Monroe plaza. The city issued a call-for-sculptors in March, encouraging artists to submit ideas for an art piece that would embrace the character of Monroe and meet the additional criteria outlined in the city's public art policy.

An Art Selection Committee was convened to review the applications received by the city. Comprising the committee were Robert Fairfax of the Monroe Arts Council, Shelley Nyhammer of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Monroe Association members Erin Angus-Snapka and Samantha Idle, Monroe Planning Commissioner Steve Jensen, Monroe Park Board member Bridgette Tuttle, Monroe City Councilmember Jeff Rasmussen and city staffers Farrell, Public Works Director Brad Feilberg and Community Development Director Dave Osaki.-á

"I mention the names because I want to thank everybody,GÇ¥ said Monroe Parks Director Mike Farrell, who presented the selected art proposal on Tuesday, May 24. "I really appreciate the service that you all performed.GÇ¥

Five proposals were received from four different artists, including Kevin Pettelle of Sultan, whose concept included a stunning showcase of the Wagner chimney with a graceful swirl of Vaux's swifts, the gentle migratory birds that make their home in Monroe every spring and fall.

The committee selected the "Wagner SwiftsGÇ¥ piece unanimously.

"The committee unanimously agreed that Mr. Pettelle's proposal demonstrated a high quality body of work and best met the city's art policy selection criteria as an original and unique work that expresses a connection to the city of Monroe, is appropriate to the site and durable,GÇ¥ Farrell said.

The concept for "Wagner SwiftsGÇ¥ is signature Pettelle, capturing the essence of the community. It's slated for installment at the corner of Main and Lewis streets, right in the center of downtown.-á -á

"As a long time resident of Snohomish County I have witnessed over the decades the tremendous growth and change to the city of Monroe. But one thing that remains consistent is the heart of the downtown core,GÇ¥ wrote Pettelle in his proposal to the city. "'Wagner Swifts' reflects a constant source of wonder unique to Monroe and the pulse of that heart.GÇ¥

The mediums Pettelle works with in his Sultan studio, Soul in Bronze, are bronze, steel and stainless steel.-á

A sculptor for more than 36 years, Pettelle moved to the Sky Valley in 1980 with his wife, whose family has been in Sultan for generations. After meeting her in Bellingham in 1976 and visiting the Sultan area, Pettelle knew he wanted to live there. He instantly loved the mountains, the forests and the rivers, finding much artistic inspiration.

Pettelle's work has been commissioned by cities all over Washington, including Sultan, Lacey, Wenatchee, Seattle, Oak Harbor, Anacortes and Everett. He is the Artist in Residence for Wenatchee's Art on the Avenues' Beauty in Bronze, a grant-funded program that gives fifth-grade students the opportunity to spend the day with him.

Last year, the program was held during the last two weeks in September, allowing students from all Wenatchee elementary schools to observe the sculptures in their community with Pettelle and learn about the medium of bronze sculpting. Nearly 600 students participated in the program, which is provided in partnership with the Wenatchee School District, the Wenatchee Valley Museum and the Cultural Center and the Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee.

Pettelle's vision for the Monroe project includes a six-foot tall depiction of the Wagner chimney made from fabricated steel measuring roughly 2-feet square at its base. The design incorporates more than 100 Vaux's swifts that would be engaged in either their nightly decent into the chimney or bursting out after a night's rest.

The preliminary concept weighs in at less than 400 pounds and would be more than 10 feet in height, with the column of birds extending 50 to 60 inches above the top of the chimney.

The swifts would be cut out of quarter-inch stainless steel plate and then welded together to form the structure of a cluster of birds spiraling at the top of the chimney. The wings of each bird would be slightly bent and burnished with a holographic satin sheen. Pettelle's proposal explains that the cluster of swifts would be positioned at a height so as to minimize viewer contact with the sculpture.

The proposal calls for a steel alloy known as 304L-grade, a type of stainless steel with high chromium content. L-grade steel has an extremely low carbon content, which makes the material more resistant to corrosion, particularly in severe conditions. Welders typically use L-grade steel because it is less susceptible to corrosion after the welding process.

Pettelle emphasized in his proposal he will work with the city to refine the piece as desired.

"From my experience commissions are collaborative efforts and it's this exchange of ideas that translates into an outstanding work of art,GÇ¥ Pettelle wrote.

Councilmember Kevin Hanford made a motion to accept the city's recommendation and move forward with Pettelle's proposal. Councilmember Kirk Scarboro brought up the risk of vandalism, suggesting a water feature or a garden area surrounding the base be installed as a preventative measure.-á -á

Rasmussen gave councilmembers an overview of the things that were discussed as the committee developed its recommendation. Committee members strongly felt that out of all the submissions, "Wagner SwiftsGÇ¥ was the most easily relatable to Monroe. Fairfax, who volunteered for the committee on behalf of the Monroe Arts Council, felt that as far as the potential for vandalism, Pettelle's piece promised the least amount of threat.

"If the public can touch it, it runs the risk of vandalism, and in his mind, this was one piece that was probably the most sustainable out there,GÇ¥ Rasmussen said. "Overall, I think the excitement from the committee was very evident.GÇ¥

Rasmussen said he hopes the city is able to continue to fund art in the community.

"I'm pleased that we were able to bring this piece to the council,GÇ¥ Rasmussen said. "I'm very supportive of this piece and I look forward to seeing it downtown.GÇ¥

Councilmembers Jim Kamp, Jason Gamble and Ed Davis all expressed enthusiastic support of the "Wagner SwiftsGÇ¥ concept, as did Mayor Geoffrey Thomas. Councilmember Patsy Cudaback was absent.

"This is uniquely Monroe, and I think it's pretty cool. I'm really excited about it,Gǥ Thomas said. "GǪ Just like with all of you, this really captured my interest and I'm really looking forward to it.Gǥ

According to the city's call-for-sculptors, the deadline for installation of the piece is Nov. 23.

To see Pettelle's proposal in its entirety, along with the submissions from other artists, visit