TWO CLOWNS DANCE INTO FREMONT'S HEART
by Kirby Lindsay
This column was originally published in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook on August 22, 2008
Fremont has art. We have art chosen to grace a particular location (Troll, Interurban, etc.), or installed ‘temporarily’ with departure nearly permanently delayed (Lenin, Guideposts, Rapunsel, etc.) and pieces cast-off from previous locations (Dinosaurs, Rocket, etc.)
This is the first time, I believe, Fremont has been chosen to host a sculpture on behalf of a community to which we are an almost insignificant portion. A memorial statue people throughout Seattle, King County and the Pacific Northwest region have demanded.
On Sunday, August 17, 2008, Governor Christine Gregoire stood here, in the Solstice Plaza, and “on behalf of the people of the State of Washington,” she honored the great legacy of Julius Pierpont (J.P.) Patches and Gertrude. “We thank them for letting us be kids forever!” she remarked.
A Long Legacy
The J.P. Patches Show aired on KIRO television between 1958 and 1981. Non-natives who didn’t grow up here will never truly understand the glow, irrepressible enthusiasm and child-like babble of an otherwise average native adult when recalling these icons. Throughout this region, Chris Wedes and Bob Newman are known as two clowns that served, entertained and educated generations.
Carl Lovgren brought the original idea of a memorial statue to the National Academy of Arts And Sciences (NATAS). They in turn asked Bryan Johnston, who co-authored a book on J.P., to make it happen.
He agreed, but “it was so much more trouble and work than I expected.” It took 2 and one half years to get done. “Getting a statue built is … a lot of money,” he learned, and donating for a statue, is “not at the top of everyone’s priority list.”
Bryan wanted the statue “in the most public place possible.” The Seattle Center turned him down. South Lake Union Park, Children’s Hospital and MOHAI involved site difficulties. Growing frustrated, his wife, April, asked if he’d thought of Fremont. When he did, the response here was encouragingly positive.
The statue, sculpted by Kevin Pettelle and named “Late For The Interurban,” is made of colored bronze and shows life-size J.P. and Gertrude do-si-do-ing, striding in opposite directions.
Laid in the plaza around them are, according to Bryan, 1,025 paving stones purchased by donors and imprinted with messages of love and posterity. Within this area but standing 10 feet southeast (beyond the collision zone of the dancers) are bronze replica of other J.P. trademarks - the ICU2TV and Esmeralda - and a coffee can. The can collects donations to support Children’s Hospital, J.P.’s favorite charitable cause.
According to the artist, his mother heard in the news about plans for a memorial statue and told him it was something he should do. Examination of the statue reveals his obvious close attention to detail, and authentic reproduction of Gertrude and J.P.’s costumes. J.P.’s capriciously patched coat including its buttons, clips and pins are all reproduced, along with a series of additional, empty buttonhooks where visitors may place buttons and tributes.
Bryan also revealed to me an element few will ever discover. The artist wisely realized someone, some time will crawl beneath the sculpture to look up Gertrude’s bronzed skirts, and so he incorporated a surprise for them as well.
A Community of Patches Pals
The statue stands as a significant gesture of gratitude from a wildly fond community, but the unveiling event gave a thousand Patches Pals (the name fans go by) an opportunity to directly express their deeply held affection, including that of U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott and the Governor. Pat Cashman served as M.C. and Stan McNaughton, of PEMCO, presented J.P. with a check of donations raised over the cost of the statue - $78,000 – to be given to Children’s. As the families of Chris Wedes and Bob Newman looked on, City Councilmember Jean Godden and King County Councilmember Larry Phillips both read separate proclamations written in their honors.
“This was a very gratifying day,” Bryan said of the event, organized by History House. “Forty or fifty years from now, God willing, I can take my grandchildren to see the statue,” Bryan pondered, “it’s going to be around a lot longer than I am, and I think that is wonderful!”
A Special Friend To All
All the dignitaries and politicians were outshone, however, by the eloquence of Christina Frost, the self-described 16-year-old granddaughter of J.P. Christina never saw the show, but she’s had plenty of Patches Pals share their stories with her. She explained how she learned her grandfather was “not just a clown or a t.v. show character,” but a special friend to thousands upon thousands upon thousands children. “I’ve seen the effect a little comedy and a little consistency can have on a community,” she told us.
This is an effect Fremont daily exemplifies, and probably the greatest argument for placing this statue right here. It may be yet another piece of art, but this one comes pre-loved, a sacred memorial for a community larger than our own and one to which Fremont has shown to be an equally enthusiastic member.
Patches Pal Kirby Lindsay works and lives in Fremont. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
- "Purchase A Paver For Posterity"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Oct 9, 2009
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.