Soul in Bronze artist Kevin Pettelle poses with swift expert and enthusiast Larry Schwitters at the base of the sculpture.
Soul in Bronze artist Kevin Pettelle poses with swift expert and enthusiast Larry Schwitters at the base of the sculpture.
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Sultan and Monroe community members came together over the weekend to celebrate the “Wagner Swifts,” a new public art display featured in the heart of Monroe’s downtown core.

Sultan artist Kevin Pettelle was commissioned for the work last year, selected from a pool of candidates after the city issued a call-for-sculptors. At the northwest corner of Main and Lewis streets, the piece honors the Vaux’s swifts, the petite and gentle birds that visit Monroe twice a year during their spring and winter migrations.

The swifts make the Wagner chimney their home while in Monroe, squeezing themselves into the 31-foot brick structure every night at dusk. Swift Night Out takes place on the law in front of the Wagner Performing Arts center every September, with community members gathering to watch the birds’ evening dance.

Mayor Geoffrey Thomas named the Vaux’s swift as Monroe’s official city bird last summer.

The sculpture was paid for with a $10,000 city of Monroe Arts Grant the city council approved to enhance the downtown core.

The dedication ceremony took place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce, Monroe Arts Council, Sky Valley Arts Council, Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce and members of the Downtown Monroe Association (DMA) attended the event. Thomas officiated the proceedings, inviting statements from Monroe City Councilmembers Kirk Scarboro, Jeff Rasmussen and Jim Kamp. Other elected officials included Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Darcy Cheesman on behalf of Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low and the Monroe School Board.

Expert swift researcher Larry Schwitters and Pilchuck Audubon Society president Cindy Easterson were in attendance. Sharinabean’s on Main owner Sharina McCrain provided refreshments.

Thomas thanked attendees for braving chilly temperatures to celebrate the new art. Work to reinvent and revitalize downtown started in 2014, he said, and has involved various infrastructure improvements, including new sidewalks, pedestrian spaces, trees and lighted bollards.

The artwork is to enhance ongoing efforts to bring new life to the downtown area by honoring a unique occurrence that is cherished by community members and bird enthusiasts.

“The thing that I really love about this sculpture is that it is very specific to Monroe,” Thomas said.

The swifts are an important part of the city’s heritage, as the Wagner chimney is recognized as one of the most significant migratory roosting sites in North America, Thomas said. Watching the birds enter the chimney is quite a sight, he said, as they spiral down, bird by bird, creating a sort of tornado as they dip inside to rest for the night.    

“This sculpture celebrates that,” Thomas said. “This sculpture celebrates something that is very specific to our community, and it is something that will be cherished for some time.”

Thomas invited Pettelle to say a few words. Pettelle thanked the community for giving him the chance to create something meaningful for them. 

“Through the many years, Monroe has gone through many changes and growth, and that’s never an easy thing,” Pettelle said. “One thing that remains consistent is the return of the Vaux’s swifts. The preservation of the Wagner migration roost speaks highly of the community’s values. I thank you for the privilege of being part of this community and everything it represents.”

Every winter, the swifts migrate from northwestern Canada to central South America, pausing in Monroe on their way down and back. Kamp found humor in the fact that such a large group of people turned out to celebrate the birds in such frigid temperatures.

“I hope you find it ironic that as we’re out here in 20-degree weather celebrating the birds, the birds are celebrating in South America,” he said.

The Monroe Arts Council was involved in the process, serving on the committee that selected Pettelle’s concept. President Lisa Sexton said a few words about what the sculpture means to the council.

“One of the things that I’ve always noticed about this community is that we like to come out for things that really represent what our community is all about, and that’s really what the swifts represent for us,” Sexton said. “They’re poetry in motion, they’re beauty in nature, and they represent some key tenants of this community.”

Among those tenants are loyalty and heritage, she said, as the swifts have returned to Monroe year after year for decades, making it their home.

Just in from Washington, D.C., DelBene thanked the community, mayor, councilmembers and other stakeholder organizations for their efforts to renovate downtown Monroe by crafting the downtown plaza area. She thanked Pettelle for his work, calling it beautiful and inspired. Art is an integral part of any community and can have a positive effect on the local economy, she said.

“We talk about our region being an innovative region,” DelBene said. “The arts are a part of that creativity that makes our region special, so thank you for celebrating the arts.”