Some might call 2016 the year of the Vaux’s swifts, as the graceful migratory winged creatures became Monroe’s official city bird. The theme is being carried over into 2017, as the city ushers in the new year with a sculpture to honor the petite birds and their swirling flight.
The Wagner Swifts dedication ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the northwest corner of Main and Lewis streets.
Designed and built by Soul in Bronze artist Kevin Pettelle, the public art project was the result of a recommendation by Mayor Geoffrey Thomas that was supported by the Monroe City Council. In addition to establishing the city’s new public art policy, the council approved a $10,000 budget allowance dedicated to the enhancement of downtown Monroe through the addition of public art.
In March, the city issued a call-for-sculptors, encouraging artists to submit ideas for an art piece that embraces the character of Monroe. Five proposals were received from four different artists.
An Art Selection Committee was convened to review the applications. Committee members included 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 Commissioners Steve Jensen and Bridgette Tuttle; Monroe City Councilmember Jeff Rasmussen; Monroe Parks Director Mike Farrell; Public Works Director Brad Feilberg and Community Development Director Dave Osaki.
Pettelle’s Wagner Swifts proposal was accepted unanimously.
“Kevin has since designed and created a beautiful metal sculpture representing Vaux’s swifts and the Frank Wagner Elementary School’s chimney, located 1/2 mile west of the sculpture site on Main Street,” states a city news release.
The chimney is recognized as one of the most important Vaux’s swift communal migratory roost sites in North America, according to the city.
Every September, Monroe residents gather at the base of the Wagner Elementary School Chimney to watch the birds as they tuck themselves in every night at dusk.
The Vaux’s swifts migrate from Canada to Mexico, Central America and Venezuela and back again, pausing in Monroe as they travel. The northerly migration typically takes place in May, with a southerly migration in September. The Pilchuck Audubon Society partners with numerous other organizations every September to host Swift Night Out, a bird-watching event that packs the grassy area around the chimney with community members.
Vaux’s swifts are relatively small in stature, measuring roughly 5 inches long and weighing around 18 grams. Pettelle’s stainless steel swifts are true-to-size, and meant to capture the essence of the little birds in every way.
“It is an honor to have been involved in this project and a joy working with the city to see it happen,” Pettelle said. “Looking forward for the sculpture’s presence on the corner of Main and Lewis with hopes that it will inspire pride in the community and the efforts it takes to make wonderful things happen.”