Thousands have died in the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The Columbia River bar has claimed people fishing, sailing and conducting business or leisure on the water. And one globally famed sculptor still wants to memorialize them with some panache.

Stanley Wanlass, a globally famous bronze sculptor behind several installments in the lower Columbia region, recently offered the city of Astoria the Seafarers Memorial, an 18- to 25-foot bronze sculpture yet to be built.

“I have a lot of friends who have died at sea, so I thought I would put together a memorial,” said Wanlass, who taught design, figure and portrait drawing at Clatsop Community College from 1970 to 1988 while running his company, Renaissance International Inc., locally.

The memorial, which depicts a man with three hands pressed to his chest offering himself to God.

Wanlass now lives near Alta, Utah, where he has a design studio (www.stanleywanlass.com) and creates bronzes of automobiles, heroic historical and Western scenes using the 6,000-year-old classic (lost wax) process called Cire Perdue.

Sculpting, transporting and installing the Seafarers Memorial, he said, could cost around $2 million.

“I don’t want this to be a burden to Astoria or the surrounds,” he said, adding that donors are in place and waiting for the sculpture to get a site. “I want it to be a gift to Astoria. We’ll come up with the money.

“I just decided this year that I’m not getting any younger,” added Wanlass, who turned 73 years old April 3.

The idea of placing the Seafarers Memorial at Point Adams floated around the Warrenton-Hammond area since the 1980s. But as supporters like local business magnate Eben Carruthers (1984) and the last mayor of Hammond and fisherman’s widow Janet Stevenson (2009) died, momentum for projects such as the Seafarer’s Memorial waned.

From land and sea

“Wanlass approached us and asked us if we’d be interested in the Seafarer’s Memorial,” said Councilwoman Arline LaMear. “It seemed like an appropriate sculpture for Astoria.”

Mayor Willis Van Dusen said the city, notified about the statue about a month ago, approached the Port about possible memorial sites, including the edge of Pier 3, where Youngs Bay and the Columbia collide. But the site might be developed by Westerlund Log Handlers and might not provide the best view. Focus shifted to the end of a thin peninsula and asphalt walking trail on the eastern edge of the West End Mooring Basin.

Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, whose stepfather Edwin Goodrich died at sea while tuna fishing, brought a miniaturized Seafarers Memorial into an April 1 Port meeting, where it received a warm welcome.

“I’ve talked to a lot of fishermen already,” said Hunsinger, a fishermen whose own three sons are also in the business. “We’ve talked about memorials for a while.”

Next steps

“I think the site near the mooring basin is a wonderful site,” said Wanlass, who will travel to Astoria in the near future to assess the site, which would have to be approved by the Port Commission. The peninsula sits on fill material, and Wanlass said it might need pilings driven into the basalt shelf below to support the sculpture, which includes a thick bronze exterior and a stainless steel or carbon fiber inner structure and could weigh between 6,000 and 8,500 pounds.

In Cire Perdue, Wanlass creates a wax model, coats it with clay to create a mold, heats it until the wax melts out of small holes in the mold and pours metal into the vacant space. Wanlass said Firebird Bronze in Boring would cast the statue.

“We’ll put it on a barge, maybe a crane barge, and we’ll bring it down the river and make a celebration stop in Portland,” he said. “The Portland Yacht Club will meet us and escort us down the Columbia River to the site.”

A similar trip brought Clark’s Tree, a statue that since 2001 has graced the Discovery Trail near Long Beach, Wash., to the farthest point west the Corps of Discovery went. Wanlass said the sculpture was nearly lost at sea in rough waters on the Columbia.

Wanlass created such coastal classics as Arrival, which in 1982 started greeting visitors to the offices of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park; End of Trail at Seaside turnaround since 1990; Mark of Triumph in downtown Long Beach since 1990; and Clark’s Tree.

Ron Neva’s memorial

Ron Neva, who’s been documenting and trying to memorialize the thousands who’ve died at sea, said he likes the idea of the Seafarers Memorial, but would like something akin to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

“I have over 1,000 names now,” said Neva, who started his effort after a crab pot line pulled his 32-year-old son Steven overboard and killed him in 2009. “And I probably didn’t even scratch the surface.”

Neva scoured newspapers, books on shipwrecks and has taken in names from others who have lost loved ones at sea.

“You start reading back though the newspapers,” he said. “The drownings are so thick, you can’t go two or three days without one.”

Many of those who died, such as the net pullers in the famed Butterfly Fleet, made less than minimum wage, held some of the most dangerous jobs and weren’t important enough to even have their name printed in the paper when they died.

The memorial at the base of the Astoria Bridge, he said, is open to anyone who pays $300 for a spot, but he wants a memorial exclusive to those who plied the local waters. The city, he added, has previously declined support for his mariner’s-only memorial.

“If this was ever built, it would be a great tourist attraction,” said Neva, adding that the memorial would need between $300,000 and $400,000 and would go nicely with the Seafarers Memorial. Those interested can contact him through www.northwestwildproducts.com.

      

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