By this fall, the Deschutes Historical Museum will have an original sculpture on its lawn honoring famed early Bend resident Kate Rockwell, better known as Klondike Kate, and all of the similarly creative and independent women of the region.
The sculpture will incorporate rocks and petrified wood from a collection kept by Rockwell. She was a known rock hound when she moved to the High Desert after making a name for herself as a vaudeville singer and dancer in Canada’s Yukon Territory during the Klondike gold rush.
More than 20 artists from across the West, including several from Oregon and Washington, sent proposals to the museum. A six-person project committee whittled down the field to four finalists.
The finalists came to Bend on Friday to present a model of their proposed sculpture. Their models will remain on display until April 28, as the committee collects public input on which design is preferred.
The budget for the project is $12,000, and the finalists will be reimbursed $400 for the cost and time of presenting their proposals.
“This is the first time we have done anything like this, where we are looking for artists to give us an interpretation on something historical,” said Kelly Cannon-Miller, Deschutes Historical Museum director and project committee member. “We are excited to see what the public reacts to.”
The four artists are Melissa Cole, of Spokane, Washington; Jenny Ellsworth, of Oregon City; John Fleming, of Seattle; and Cyrra Robinson, of Tumwater, Washington.
Cole, who grew up in Albany, calls her proposed sculpture “A life well lived: The colorful journey of Klondike Kate.” The design is a vibrant sculpture of Klondike Kate dressed as a vaudeville dancer atop her rocks and a rainbow trout.
As an artist for the past 18 years, Cole has become drawn to creating public art, she said. She recently completed a large piece with mosaic panels along a pedestrian bridge in Lewiston, Idaho. And she is working on a piece for the public library in Moscow, Idaho.
Cole said she was inspired by Klondike Kate’s life story, one that started in Cole’s home of Spokane.
“I love the fact that they had the actual rock collection of Klondike Kate,” Cole said. “Plus her life was amazing. Such a strong, interesting, independent woman, and she grew up in Spokane.”
Ellsworth has a background in construction and used to own a metal fabrication shop outside of Portland. Since 2010, Ellsworth has pursued an art career, which is influenced by her welding skills.
Ellsworth’s proposed sculpture is called “Community Beauty.” She welded metal together to appear like a puffy dress covering a collection of rocks.
Ellsworth said she could relate to being a rock hound like Klondike Kate.
“My mom and I also collected rocks. My mom paints rocks,” Ellsworth said. “It brought me back to my childhood.”
Fleming, an established artist based in Seattle, has his work presented in cities across the West, including one already in Bend. He created the sculpture “High Desert Spiral” at the roundabout at Simpson Avenue and Mt. Washington Drive.
His proposed sculpture is called, “Kate’s Tiara.” It uses the rocks to depict one of the flamboyant hats Klondike Kate famously wore.
In researching the project, Fleming became fascinated with Klondike Kate’s life and the idea of her shifting lifestyles to end up homesteading outside of Bend, he said.
“I grew up in the high desert too, in New Mexico and Arizona, hunting for rocks,” Fleming said. “I really enjoyed how that connected to my past.”
Robinson — a native of Missoula, Montana who also grew up a proud rock hound — works from her art studio in Tumwater, just south of Olympia, Washington.
She has been gaining attention recently for her public art. Last year, Robinson won the Percival Plinth People’s Choice Award for a sculpture placed in front of Olympia City Hall.
Her proposed sculpture is called “Intersecting Ascension.” It is a bronze sculpture inspired by the shape of the Deschutes River. It’s meant to show the vivacious spirit of Klondike Kate and exemplify women coming together to create a strong and unified community, Robinson said.
“I see it very much captures her essence and the essence of all the women in the community,” Robinson said.
The cost of the project is being covered by the family and friends of Bend native Charlene Blahnik, a local artist who died in February 2017 at 79. Blahnik created a variety of artwork, from abstract paintings to stained glass windows and jewelry. She earned multiple honors, including having a painting displayed in Wyoming’s congressional offices.
Some of her work is on display inside the museum.
Creating the sculpture to honor Rockwell’s love of the region, and in Blahnik’s memory, is fitting since it will recognize all of the artistic and strong-willed women of the area just like them, Cannon-Miller said.
At first, Cannon-Miller was nervous asking artists to find inspiration in a pile of old rocks. But to her surprise, the rocks actually attracted the artists. Each of the finalists pride themselves on repurposing materials.
“There’s this great continuity between this women who lived a hundred years ago and these artists now,” Cannon-Miller said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com