Beloved Orca sculpture returns to Edmonds

Orca creator John Hurley, center, flanked by Salish Sea Brewing Company owners Erika and Jeff Barnett.
The Edmonds Driftwood Orca in its new home at the Salish Sea Brewing Company’s Boathouse Tap Room in Harbor Square.

More than 200 people gathered at the Salish Sea Brewing Company’s Boathouse Tap Room Sunday evening to be part of a gala celebration marking the return of what is arguably the most identifiable, iconic and beloved piece of public art in our community – artist John Hurley’s driftwood Orca.

“It’s great to have this piece of Edmonds back home,” remarked Salish Sea owner Jeff Barnett.  “It’s wonderful that John Hurley has been able to restore it – once again – and allow future generations the pleasure of enjoying this unique piece of Edmonds’ heritage. After 28 years of being exposed to the elements, it’s now in a safe new home where it will be enjoyed by all for years to come.”

The earliest photo of the Edmonds Driftwood Orca, taken in 1994 shortly after Hurley fashioned it from a piece of driftwood found on an Edmonds beach. He mounted it on a construction sign on the future site of Brackett’s Landing South Park, and offered it as a gift to the citizens of Edmonds. The Parks Department subsequently moved it to Brackett’s Landing North, where it remained until last November. (Photo courtesy John Hurley)

In its Brackett’s Landing location, the Orca was a natural magnet for children. (Photo by Bob Sears)

Since its 1994 installation, the Orca has been enjoyed by thousands of visitors to Brackett’s Landing park, served as the backdrop for innumerable photos, and been climbed on by generations of children. Fashioned by Hurley from a piece of driftwood he found on an Edmonds Beach and presented as a gift to the citizens of Edmonds, the Edmonds Parks Department installed it in Brackett’s Landing Park adjacent to the jetty.

But no piece of wood lasts forever, and years of wind and weather ultimately took their toll. Hurley made regular visits to touch up the paint and make minor repairs, but eventually wood rot set in. After the Orca was blown over in a 2015 windstorm, Hurley conducted a major rebuild replacing more than 30 pounds of rotten wood with an estimated 90 pounds of concrete mastic.  But the rot continued to spread, and last fall the dorsal fin broke off.

The Orca after last November’s loss of the rotted dorsal fin. (Photo by Janice Carr)

Hurley once again came to the rescue, bringing the Orca to his shop for yet another rebuild. But after assessing the damage and deterioration, it soon became clear that the piece had become too fragile to remain outdoors exposed to the elements and the children who (understandably) could not resist climbing on it.

Enter Jeff and Erika Barnett, owners of Edmonds Salish Sea Brewing Company.  They heard about the Orca, and last fall offered their place of business as a new permanent home. (See earlier My Edmonds News story here)

And so it happened.

Hurley works on the Orca in his shop. (Photo courtesy Nancy Hurley-Madison)

John Hurley completed repairs and spiffed it up with fresh paint, and a crew from Salish Sea Brewing picked it up and installed it in a place of honor in the newly opened Boathouse Tap Room in Harbor Square, where it was ceremoniously unveiled on Sunday evening.

Hurley, now 96 years old, was on hand to join in the festivities.

“I love this sculpture,” he confessed with a laugh. “While I was doing the final restoration I’d dream about it. It was always on my mind, and it would sometimes keep me awake for hours.”

Hurley receives a kiss from daughter Nancy Hurley-Madison.
Artist John Hurley holds up one of many pieces of his painted art reflecting the Orca theme. These were available at the event, and many attendees left with several.

The work inspired more art by Hurley, moving him to paint rocks, shells and pieces of wood that reflect the Orca motif and filled two tables at the Sunday event and were offered for sale for a very nominal price.

“I’m so pleased that we can keep this as part of the community,” said Barnett. “Since the Boathouse is also a restaurant, kids can come in and see it — but they won’t be climbing on it. It will still be there as a photo backdrop, but more importantly as a one-of-a-kind piece of our community DNA, a reminder of when we were less complex, more innocent.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. What a great gift to our town from Mr. Hurley and the Barnett’s. Preserving unique old Edmond’s stuff and traditions is an important and worthwhile endeavor I think. I heard a rumor that the Edmond’s Fire Dept. ’38 Ford Firetruck will soon find a permanent home in another new local establishment. I’m told I’m wrong about this; but I wish we had our own Fire Dept. back and GO TIGERS forever. I’m thinking we should have an all old Edmonds High School Class Reunion somewhere in town pretty soon. Salish Sea Boat House might be a great place for that kind of event. Or the ECA ( former EHS), catered with Salish Brew?

  2. Congrats to what sounded like a well attended event as many of my friends filled me in about the standing room only event!

    Thank you, Jeff and Erika for honoring this piece of history and putting the restored Orca at your pub. And thank you Mr. Hurley and your artistic vision of a Orca which had cemented Edmonds Bracketts Landing Beach for decades as a tourist “selfie spot!”

  3. While I am very happy that Orca was restored again, I do not feel mounting it in a Taproom is proper course. This s a piece of public art that was donated to the city. Placing it in a private establishment just didn’t seem right to me. I feel it should have been put in the Edmonds Museum for all to see and enjoy. What will happen to it when Boathouse goes out of business? We know it will. No business lasts forever regardless of how popular it is. That said, I do want to thank the Barnetts for offering to protect our beloved Orca; at least until a permanent spot at the museum is procured.

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