After damage, Orca sculpture fate in jeopardy

The orca sculpture as it appeared Sunday morning without a dorsal fin. (Photo by Frannie Cohen)

The Brackett’s Landing Orca sculpture is arguably the most identifiable, iconic and beloved piece of public art in our community. Crafted by local artist John Hurley from a piece of driftwood he found on an Edmonds beach, it has been a feature of the park since 1994. But 28 years of wind and weather have taken their toll, and no piece of wood lasts forever.

“The Edmonds Orca was donated to the city in 1994 and has been maintained by the city with assistance from the creator, John Hurley, ever since,” said Parks and Recreation Director Angie Feser.

The latest chapter in the saga began on Sunday morning, when frequent beach walker Frannie Cohen discovered that the dorsal fin was missing. Whether by accident or vandalism, all that remained was a splintered stub.

Detail of the stub left by the broken dorsal fin. (Photo by Janice Carr)

“I was brokenhearted,” Cohen said.

She is not alone.

Since its installation in 1994, the driftwood Orca has earned a special place in the community. It has served as a backdrop for family photos, been climbed on by generations of youngsters, stood as a visual avatar of Edmonds, and is a truly one-of-a-kind piece that is meant to be touched, interacted with and enjoyed —  not just admired from a distance.

In response to the latest damage, parks department crews removed the sculpture this week and took it to the maintenance shop, where city staff will decide its fate — so at least for now its former site at Brackett’s Landing is empty.

This is not the first time the sculpture’s future has been in doubt. In March 2015, its old driftwood body had deteriorated to the point that a windstorm tore it loose from its supports sending it tumbling to the ground. At first, it appeared unrepairable due to the extensive rot and the city was poised to relegate it to the landfill — but in response to a flood of pleas from local citizens, the city contacted Hurley to take a look.

While it was badly deteriorated, he agreed to give it a try – no guarantees. It was not an easy job.

The Orca has greeted Brackett’s Landing visitors since 1994. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

Under Hurley’s direction, more than 30 pounds of rotten wood were removed and replaced with 90 pounds of concrete mastic. The reconstructed piece was smoothed, repainted and reinstalled in its original location in mid-July 2015. Read the complete story in My Edmonds News here.

But according to Feser, this time Hurley will likely not be part of the process.

“Mr. Hurley is now in his 90s and has moved away from the area,” she said.  “The city will be evaluating options for repair or replacement.”

The city’s parks department has installed a sign informing visitors of the sculpture’s status.

This appears to leave the fate of the Orca open. Will it be repaired and returned in its original form, replaced by new work of art, or become the latest piece of Edmonds’ past to fade into history? The answer should be forthcoming soon.

But for Frannie Cohen, the driftwood Orca is irreplaceable.

“The Orca is an iconic piece of Edmonds heritage, and I take joy in seeing it every day on my walks,” she said. “It’s like an old friend to me.”

— By Larry Vogel

  1. Replace the orca with a duplicate, understandable the original is to far gone. But to have it gone is unacceptable

    1. I can’t bear to imagine it gone for good. My dad is the whale’s creator and he lovingly cared for it for 26 years (until a stroke, when he moved nearer family). A replica is something I now hope for. I have thought of crowdfunding or possibly a wonderful Edmonds Patron that would make this a reality!!!♥️

      1. Crowdfunding is a great idea and I would gladly donate! Creating a replica from a more durable material is definitely the way to go!

  2. One of the first photos we took of our kids after moving to Edmonds was in front of The Orca. Hoping it can be salvaged!

  3. I would love to see this repaired or recreated. The original, if recreated, should be restored as best as possible and put in our museum for future generations, in an environment more conducive to long term life. This orca is an iconic part of our community and it is worth the investment to keep this art alive. I’d gladly give to a fund to cover restoration costs and am certain others would as well.

    1. I love the idea of a recreation of the whale! (and so does dad, John Hurley, the creator of the whale) I would love to have an Edmonds Patron take this project on and give this Iconic Whale a lasting home for future generations. Crowdfunding is another great option, as I know the whale is Well Loved! ♥️ Your idea of keeping his original in the museum is such a wonderful idea!!! (I am one of John’s daughters)

      1. That Orca is very special. I’ve lived in the area most of my life at 78. Such a piece to be on Edmonds beach. A redo or repair is f definitely needed. We all have photos that make us happy.

        1. Thanks Connie. Dad had the whale brought back home to him for repairs. He just turned 95 and is very excited to have the opportunity to work on it again. He has given the whale over to The Salish Sea Brewing Company in Edmonds. When the original whale’s restoration is complete they will showcase it inside their establishment. We still dream of a replica Orca standing at Bracketts Landing again!

    2. Good idea. The original will be safe in our Museum. Sounds perfect. Anything in Edmonds anyplace in Edmonds is vulnerable right now. SO I would go to an extreme expense for the duplicate but its sure worth a try to put another there. I took have taken every guest for all of these years to this spot. Pictures and the history behind our Orca and Mr. Hurley was devoted to this very much. Ms. Nancy Hurley-Madison. I hope your father is doing ok and tell him Thank you. We are all rooting to save the Orca.

  4. Let’s replace it with a duplicate made of metal or stone to withstand the elements. Love that sculpture! It is a part of the Edmonds experience. Save the the orca please.

    1. Thank you for your ideas. I spoke with dad, (John Hurley the creator of the whale) yesterday and he loved this idea as well. It is so iconic and I believe it should remain in this location, recreated stronger, for future generations to enjoy!

  5. I was sad to see a summer camp counselor help kids climb on top of the orca this year but it seems inevitable that the shape invites that… perhaps we need to replace with something more durable?

    1. Thank you for you idea of replacing with a stronger material. (Dad, John Hurley, creator of the whale, loves the idea! I am currently talking with the city about options. A great idea would be an Edmonds Patron to take this project on and keep it in its current location for future generations! Or a Crowdfunding project to keep our beloved whale!

  6. All excellent comments and solutions! An additional simple native plant garden would enhance this special part of Edmonds history.

  7. If funds are an issue – please report tomorrow where we can donate! If the concrete mastic worked for partial repair I expect an artist could recreate the whole to look like the original ~ right??

    1. The idea of a recreation is such a great idea. John, the creator of the whale likes this idea as well. Possible Crowdfunding or a Patron to take on the project are good ideas. I know the whale is well loved by the community. I hope this becomes a reality! (One of John’s daughters)

  8. Good article, Larry. I hope it is replaced as Frannie is correct, it’s a fixture on our waterfront and should be a reminder to not pollute. Our Orca population loss one Orca this year and only had two births. We must protect our whales and this is art piece was a good reminder.

    1. Hi, would fiberglass be strong enough for people to put their kids on it for photos? I would love to see it recreated in something strong enough to allow this to occur. My dad loved to see people enjoy the whale, including sitting on it, (as he did) and posing their children on it.

  9. Wow, all wonderful ideas! If there were a duplicate made with stronger materials, could this one still be repaired as sort of a mate…? Two orcas? I don’t know a darn thing about sculpture, but maybe it could work somehow?

  10. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of the Tulalip master carvers were to create a newly designed orca to replace the old one…

  11. As I am not the right person to raise money for this very worthy endeavor, I would certainly help with the process.
    It seems the first steps would be to get someone that could advise on the best material for the piece, then seek an appropriate Artist/Craftsman to make it and get a quote so we know how much it will cost and have a timeline for the project. Once this is done, we can then work to raise the dollars needed but we would need a ‘campaign’ to get the word out. Maybe an ‘Orca Event’ or two at a local restaurant/pub/winery/distillery? Possibly dedicate an Art Walk to raising funds?
    I will help as much as possible if someone can ‘steer the ship’!

    1. Thanks for your interest in helping with the whale. I am so hopeful there could be a replica created and have it placed just where it was for future generations.

  12. Replace the orca With a new one. As a 1970 Edmonds tiger graduate, I know what it feels like to fade into history. Replace the orca and add a bronze Tiger to the foyer at Edmonds Woodway high school

    1. I agree to make a durable replica of the orca. And also a Tiger at the high school foyer. Some things need to stay the same or at least be cherished as part of Edmonds history.

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