Greg Bartol, driving a small loader, carefully hoists and guides his strapped penguin sculpture into a new spot – at the corner of West Meeker Street and Second Avenue South. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Penguins migrate to Kent as temporary art landmark

Creators lease seabirds to KDP for a year

Penguins have landed in Kent.

Plump penguins – 10-foot-tall daddy standing next to his 4-foot son – are new inhabitants to downtown as a temporary landmark on an empty private lot at the corner of West Meeker Street and Second Avenue South.

Spoons by the thousands glimmer off the big penguin’s belly, neck and head to the wonder of passersby. The fat baby penguin, its body composed of forks, tilts its head up, waiting for its next snack with open beak.

The penguins are public art, sculptures made from mostly everyday materials, silverware and recycled inner tubes and shaped by the hands of Greg Bartol, Debbie Drllevich and Anita Schuler, leaders of a multi-artisan team in the Green River College Welding Technologies program.

The penguins previously posed near Game Farm Park in Auburn for more than a year, on loan from the artists and part of a celebration of local artisans and creative types. They also were used by the Seattle Symphony as part of its March of the Penguins promotion last year.

And now the penguins have migrated north, leased to the Kent Downtown Partnership (KDP) for a year.

The goal of the KDP and its arts committee is to bring art into downtown.

“A question has been asked, ‘Why a penguin?’ ” said Barbara Smith, KDP executive director. “The penguin itself has no significance. It is a beautiful, fun piece of art that we hope the public will come by and admire and have their photo taken with. … We hope it brings energy and fun to an empty lot.”

Bartol’s specialty is welding steel and copper animals, which command attention with their vibrant, torch-created colors and detailed textures. Many of his sculptures can be found on the Green River campus, throughout Auburn and Kent.

Each sculpture is built around an interior steel frame.

The penguins of Kent stand diagonally across the street from Maggie’s, for which Bartol created the restaurant’s sign and some of its window boxes. Some of Bartol’s other work can be seen in the Rusty Raven Studio downtown as well as metal signage on several buildings on First Avenue, between Gowe and Titus streets.

Bartol also created several dragonflies throughout downtown.

“I always wanted (my art) in Kent,” said Bartol, who discovered his passionate niche teaching welding and art at the college after a 30-year career in law enforcement. “It’s absolutely great to bring it here. It’s visible as a landmark.”

According to Smith, a lot of planning went into bringing the penguins to Kent.

Volunteers – notably Dereck Dykman, Shawn Ralph, Greg Haffner, Garry Stewart, Myron Johnson, Frank Carter and Randall Smith – broke up the ground and poured fresh cement for the penguins’ reinforced foundation. The KDP paid for the supplies.

Bartol, Drllevich, Schuler and volunteers helped make the smooth move Thursday morning. Bartol, driving a small loader, carefully hoisted and guided the strapped penguin into position.

For Bartol, trained privately in art history and design, the craft comes from his heart.

“It’s not hard but it takes some time, and that’s the difference,” he said. “Most people won’t spend the time, but I will spend the time and make it worthwhile … because when it’s done, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

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