Scene in Edmonds: David Varnau sculptures unveiled

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“Apres Le Bain” after unveiling. (Photos by Larry Vogel)

“Every artist aspires to have their work in the Louvre – and today I’ve arrived,” quipped local artist David Varnau (davidvarnau.com) who, Saturday morning, celebrated the placement of two of his bronze sculptures outside the French-inspired Café Louvre.

Café Louvre is a tenant of Greg Hoff owner of Windermere Edmonds and Windermere Real Estate Company who agreed to have Varnau’s sculptures permanently placed in the courtyard of the Windermere business complex at 210 5th Ave. S.

David Varnau with Denise Cole.
David Varnau with Denise Cole.

Varnau, who admits a certain fascination with people watching, pursued a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loyola University of Chicago. It was his post-baccalaureate training in the field of prosthetics at UCLA that provided him insights into human anatomy and movement. He began sculpting 20 years ago.

“I believe in the importance of art in public places. The preponderance of public art is one of things that make walking around European cities and towns so charming. Just being able to enjoy the surprise [of coming up an outside art installation] adds enrichment to one’s day. And years later, coming back and experiencing the same piece of art, and realizing how your experiences in the interim have subtly changed your outlook. [Public art] helps one get out of their immediate thoughts for a few minutes; lets one enjoy the visual. Then, you get on with your day.”

Denise Cole unveils one of the sculptures.
Denise Cole unveils one of the sculptures.

On hand for the unveiling of the bronze sculptures, titled “Apres Le Bain” was Denise Cole, owner of Cole Gallery http://colegallery.masterpiecesolutions.org

Before asking the mayor to add his comments to the occasion Cole observed, “Edmonds has the deserved reputation of being an arts town.” She told of the Varnau installation that is at the NW corner of 3rd Avenue South and Main Street and her hopes that other private property owners will follow Hoff’s example of facilitating installations of public art at their business locations.

Mayor Dave Earling added, “This is really an important step toward building our community’s reputation as an arts community. I want to thank David for his commitment to public art and to Frances Chapin, (Edmonds arts and culture manager) and Denise Cole for their hard work on this project.”

Asked for his reaction to the unveiling Varnau said to the gathering, “It means so much to me to have this art displayed outdoors rather than in a gallery or as part of a private collection. More people can enjoy and experience it, and it adds richness to our community.”

He went on to say, “Edmonds is a very special place. Art is becoming a larger part of our community every day. Just look at the number of people drawn here today by art!”

The two pieces took shape after 50 hours of sculpting with a live model. The next steps included, in part, foundry work and formation of a silicon mold which was poured over the form resulting in something of a “chocolate Easter bunny” says Varnau. Ultimately a slurry of molten bronze heated to 2000 degrees is used for casting.

Mayor Dave Earling welcomes the new artwork.
Mayor Dave Earling welcomes the new artwork.

To the question how much does each sculpture weigh, the scientific response came from Varnau’s brother in law, “it’s really really heavy!” In fact, it took four men working very hard to place each sculpture on its pedestal.

Varnau, who retains ownership of the two sculptures, reassured the crowd, “These sculptures will last for many generations.” Varnau is available for commissions for those art patrons who may want to purchase his work.

(Emily Hill and Larry Vogel contributed to this feature)

36 COMMENTS

  1. We sat in our car having gelato and watched people’s reactions to the statues. A grown man literally ran his hand over the arm like she was real (creepy) and two little kids kept pretending they were smelling her backside and then waving their noses like they smelled.
    Several people walking by stopped for a moment to read about them and some man stood in front of them several times (not the artist) greeting people and making them stop and shaking their hands.
    In my meager opinion putting something more family oriented would have made more sense since this area is frequented by families with little kids. These are gorgeous pieces of art but the nakedness of them doesn’t really fit in to the Edmonds family lifestyle based on watching people’s reactions.

  2. Dear Heather Chan,

    Parents are given opportunities, while their children are maturing, to take advantage of “teachable moments”. The scene you witnessed at the Varnau sculptures may have been one of those moments.

    Instead of scurrying European-quality art out of the sight of little boys going through that silly stage of unbecoming jokes – why not guide them through that tasteless joke stage (that they all seem to go through) in a way that allows their experiences and expression to grow toward a more worldly perspective?

    A parent who is engaged in their child’s upbringing is one who mentors through those awkward moments without shaming the community, or their own children.

    Rick Steves offers a European tour specially designed for children which exposes them to monumentally/historically significant art pieces such as Michelangelo’s David and other pieces in which the art subject is in various stages of undress.

    The topic isn’t whether or not David Varnau’s subjects placed in the open courtyard at Windermere Real Estate are nude, partially nude, or dressed in gossamer gowns – it’s whether or not members of a community can look at the expression of art without public embarrassment – and teach its children to consider the expression of art as a wonder of realism.

    While considering Varnau’s “Apres Le Bain” and “Transfixed” I too wanted to reach out and run my hand over the polished bronze; the realism is stunning and a wonderment at the highest level.

    My vote is that we challenge ourselves; and our children to grow toward wider acceptance of what is art, composition of music, and understanding of differing perspectives of seeing the world; i.e. to not shuttle children and ourselves into blinders using shame.

    Speaking for myself – and not being repressed – I don’t feel embarrassed in my admiration of David Varnau’s subject matter –even at its current location. Varnau’s show of remarkable talent, or his dedication to the wonders of the human body is positively stunning.

    Imagine! Teaching a child to get through their sometimes-silly reactions, instead of controlling their lives through our own silly-reactions.

    • Emily Hill, thank you for taking the time to compose the thoughts of many of us in Edmonds. You bring a mature and beautiful narrative to these beautiful sculptures.

  3. Emily, you did such a great job of pointing out what the sculptures are and how “teachable moments” are there for parents. You are such a diplomat! Thank you.

  4. Given the comments I guess it must be art… I didn’t find anything diplomatic in Emily’s self righteous lecture to parents. Anyone who thought the piece would not be viewed by some as porn and therefore inappropriate for the location are naive. I tend to think it is purposely provocative and that the kids have as much right to their initial response as the rest of us. Perhaps a social studies student is monitoring reactions? Now I think the mayor ought to dedicate the gorgeous family fun piece in front of the DA Davidson building on Dayton and 4th.

  5. Perhaps we should blind-fold our children and lead them by the hand through life so we can guarantee they’ll learn what WE teach them. Then, they can be offended like their parents. And as for “Emily’s self righteous lecture……” Give me a break!

  6. I haven’t seen them up close yet, but I look forward to seeing our town’s newest pieces of public art.

    And just to touch on the content, I feel like it’s completely appropriate for families. If you took your kids to a European city covered in partially clothed (if at all) statues and paintings, would you cover their eyes the whole time? Not all nudity is pornographic and there’s nothing wrong with seeing the human body, especially when done in such wonderful facsimile.

    Sure, if the statues depicted some sort of sex act, that would be a different matter, but they don’t. It’s just the human body, and there’s nothing controversial about that. Or there shouldn’t be, at least.

  7. As a mother of young children, I am proud to have these sculptures in Edmonds. I have no problem with my children viewing a woman’s breast on a piece of artwork. After all, both of my kids were breast fed not too long ago! These sculptures are beautiful. We need to stop vilifying the human figure and appreciate the art.

  8. Great to read all the comments which are almost all exchanges of ideas. But I’d like to just weigh-in, not about the sculpture, which is beautiful, but about the unkind comment regarding Emily Hill’s response. We can disagree in a way that invites exchange and hopefully a sharing and then reshaping of our own viewpoints. Then there is a way to disagree which stifles debate. Using judgmental words such as “self-righteous” especially to describe Emily’s response, is unnecessary and could now cause her to over think her responses from now on – which would be a shame. Let’s all respect each other’s viewpoints and comments and keep the dialogue open and welcoming.

  9. What a proud day for Edmonds when local art inspires actual thought provoking conversation! Congratulations to Edmonds and to David; these pieces are a great and significant step towards a higher caliber public offering. Too often cities lean towards vanilla, mundane, and generally safe installations that defy the very purpose of art itself. Art should ask us to stretch a bit. Thanks for asking Edmonds, David.

    • And if it were instead a nude male, I am betting this would be an entirely different discussion. That is also an entirely different conversation about art and culture.

  10. “Repressed” is a trigger word and the proud exclamation of “I’m not repressed” is a bullying tactic used for decades to pressure women in unwanted sexually charged situations. If it was mean to call Emily out on that – so be it. I don’t care whether the statue stays or goes, I do care deeply that people uncomfortable with it have their say.

  11. So Maggie – is it your belief that it is okay for Emily to judge and label others reactions as “silly” – but not for Judy to react to Emily’s post and state that Emily’s words were self- righteous? Weren’t Emily’s words the first judgmental words expressed? Weren’t Emily’s words the first unkind comments about another citizen’s viewpoint?

  12. Maggie, is there a chance that Emily’s long response made directly to Heather Chan will possibly cause Heather to over think her posts from now on? If so, wouldn’t that be a shame?

    Heather concluded by saying that “These are gorgeous pieces of art but the nakedness of them doesn’t really fit in to the Edmonds family lifestyle based on watching people’s reactions.”

    Was Emily’s direct response open and welcoming to Heather?

    I quoted Heather’s concluding comment above. Following is Emily’s concluding comment:

    “Imagine! Teaching a child to get through their sometimes-silly reactions, instead of controlling their lives through our own silly-reactions.”

  13. I dont see these sculptures as classic art at all in any remote way……although technically/skilled ………perhaps old fashioned (not modern and new) and pin up art from the 40s and 50s come to mind. …..old fashioned In my mind, they are voyueristic and provacative and sexist with the nipple ( and fully protruding on a clothed figure)extended (center of the composition) encircled and an arm and hand almost pointing to it. We would not see this on a male figure with his penis erect and that being the center of the composition with a limb almost pointing it out.

    This sculpture invites adults and children to see woman as sex objects (and I thought we had evolved from that…..boy, was I wrong!)……and that was the whole point of 50s pin up callendars…….woman as sex objects.

    I believe this is inappropriate public art using the female body to display sexism and of course created by a man……….certainly not a classic …..clearly American and sexist and surprising this day and age

    I think there are those that need to reread and study Janzens Art History, particlarly classic sculpture…….no appearance of anything sexual, as compared to this sculpture which invites voyerism

    Dont get me wrong, this artist has all the technique in the world but no new ideas, nor classic sculpture that I have seen

    We have bronze sculptures of figures at our beach that are classic sculptures…..They are not sexual or sexist……nothing pertaining to sex. I am talking about the figures on the boat at the the entry to the beach…….now, that is classic

    Emily is good at branding but there is no way this is classic sculpture so what we SEE is really what we SEE…..sexism and to me that is the worst kind of branding.

  14. Let’s say that a child is acting silly; maybe “age appropriate” but their actions embarrass those around them who are witness to that act.

    Aren’t we equally silly when we participate in the child’s act by acquiescing to it?

    Wouldn’t it be a better reaction to say to the child, “Well, that was a silly way of reacting to this bronze statue. But run your hands over the eyes, its face; hold your hand over its hand – is it as big as your hand?” Maybe ask the child how they think the statue was made, engage them in a thought process.

    To acquiesce to the reaction of the child by suggesting that a whole community perceive the statute from the perspective of the child’s makes the community-standard-building that of a child, instead of that of an adult – I maintain that’s . . . well ____________ YOU fill in the blank.

    Actually, I still maintain that I’m not repressed. I wouldn’t be ashamed of running my hand over the polished bronze of “Transfixed” or “Apres Le Bain” in the daylight (and I have!). That act might be something another person would never dream of doing. I’m describing only myself – no one else.

    • I did look into this, but allowing those buttons would require a complete change of our commenting system so am not able to pursue it.

  15. Emily the lady was upset over what the kids were doing with the art work or maybe she doesn’t like it thats fine its a free country thats no reason to cuss somebody out you know sometimes its better to keep those things to yourself anybody hear how Ron W is doing it must have been pretty serious if he ended up in harborview

  16. Some friends who were visiting from New York were strolling with me around Edmonds, and we were all captivated by David Varnau’s graceful and sensitive sculptures, and felt they added so much to the ambiance and charm of the street. I feel so lucky to live in a town where such importance is given to the arts and such an effort is made to create an environment of beauty and community.

  17. Art is always in the eye of the beholder. Ms Chan wasn’t comfortable with some of the behaviors she saw around those sculptures and stated her opinion. In return she got a posting directed at her in which she not only got an unsolicited parenting lesson but indirectly was called “repressed”. Seriously? I don’t know Ms Chan and have no idea why she was singled out in the way she was. But her point of view was not only worth my time to read but my respect for her opinion. So, Ms Chan, thanks for your posting and I hope you enjoyed your gelato anyway.

  18. I looked at the other sculpture of the young girl that is in front of Washington Federal Bank on 3rd and Main, assumed done by same artist, and did not feel the same reaction at all. This young girl did not have an extended nipple like the other sculpture of the grown woman.
    The sculpture at the bank made Degas and his dancers come to mind (speaking of classic art)……did not get any similar feeling at all regarding the other sculpture of the woman mainly because to me it was only about a sexual aspect of her from a mans point of view……just does not feel “classic” to me at all.

  19. I enjoy having sculptures in our town. Sculptures like the one near the ranger’s station at Edmonds beache seem “full of character” to me because those old people look… so… average, but the one at 3rd/Main and now at the Windemers? I’m so sick and tired of hot-looking females. Sometimes I feel bombarded with bodies of perfection on TV and movies and sometimes it’d be nice to see average and unsexy bodies sculpted and admired in public places.

  20. ……..yes, “average and unsexy bodies sculpted”……that is the classic male and female sculpture……..not sexulized at all…….I dont know of anybody that thinks of sex when looking at classic fine art scuplture……..particlarly all the church patron classic sculptures in Europe for the time period of classic sculpture. Afterall, those that know their art history,usually the church was the PATRON of most artists and students of the masters at that time.

    So, nothing sexual would come to mind when looking at that art. ….actually quite the opposite…..heavenly bodies transcending earthly things

  21. Lots of interesting comments. I was standing near the art yesterday when someone was waling across the street and tripped and fell. It looks like 5th ave is sinking right at that spot and the sinking is several inched deep. Not that’s not good.

  22. Thank you to everyone who is supportive of David’s artwork and his right as an artist, and the greater right of our community to display fine art. With a little time, I am sure they will become an integral and much appreciated part of our beautiful downtown landscape. These sculptures are artistically rendered studies of the human figure. No burka required.

  23. I haven’t been down to see the sculptures yet, but I’m unconvinced looking at these photos that there’s anything sexual about them. It seems to me that the reaction to these sculptures says more about our society than anything else. She’s not even nude, she’s wearing sheer fabric. As taboos go, our societal aversion to the female nipple is one of the more incomprehensible and arbitrary ones.

    Listening to some of the comments here I’m not reminded of classic sculpture but more of a mural painted in Snohomish about ten years ago on the side of a barbecue restaurant. People at the time were very upset — I’m not making this up — that the pigs were depicted without any clothes.

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