Reviving history

The heavy, antique dragline bucket that once worked the logponds along the Deschutes River has found a new home in Bend’s newest roundabout sculpture, titled “Ghost.” Photo: Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

In its prime, it was a workhorse: A multi-ton dragline bucket with fearsome foot-long spades for teeth and a gaping maw of a mouth.

A barge-bound crane would drop it into the log pond upriver from Bend’s two main lumber mills and drag it across the river bottom, scooping up yards of sediment at a time. It was also used to scoop bark and other debris out of the river. But when the mills closed, the dredge foundered, the heavy bucket left to rust.

Now, it’s a work of art, the centerpiece of Bend’s newest roundabout sculpture in the Old Mill District at the intersection of Bond Street and Wilson Avenue.

It’s a bucket reborn.

“We really wanted to bring it back to life,” said artist Andrew Wachs, who designed and built the sculpture with Erik Gerding and Andy Hall, all Bend residents.

“It’s beautiful, just so well designed,” said Wachs. “It has a lot of grace to it.”

The owner of a metal fabrication shop, Weld Design Studio, Wachs knows metal. The bucket, he says, is one-of-a-kind. He estimates it weighs several tons and likely took three weeks to build. Its craftsmanship is superb, from the rivets and reinforcing welds to the circular collar, hand forged from 3/4-inch thick steel. It is stamped with a manufacturer’s name, Baer, but not much more is known about its origin.

Wachs doesn’t necessarily have a thing for antique metalwork. In fact, most of his creative work is of a more modern bent.

The idea to revive the bucket belongs to Old Mill District developer Bill Smith, who is building the roundabout. The original plans called for landscaping the center of the roundabout, but once Wachs and his collaborators heard about it, they pitched an idea for a sculpture to Smith. Smith said yes.

It wasn’t Wachs first choice for a sculpture, but upon seeing the bucket for the first time — in what Wachs calls the “boneyard” Smith keeps next to the Les Schwab Amphitheater — he was smitten.

With the help of Gerding, who holds a masters degree in architecture, the two came up with a design to pay homage to the bucket’s past. Their sculpture would include a crane to simulate dredging and steel pilings to mimic floodwalls around a “dredged” area consisting of dry river rock.

Also of note is the crane arm, which is slightly tilted off its horizontal axis, as if straining to pull the bucket across the roundabout, not unlike a fisherman reeling in his catch.

In the sculpture, the bucket isn’t oriented the correct way, but its position implies a sense of movement that is crucial to the installation, said Wachs.

“There’s lots of motion and torque — tension — as it relates to all these objects,” Wachs said.

Another design element is the half-buried state of the crane house. It can be interpreted two ways, said the artists. The sculpture is either rising or subsiding. Rising, as with the Old Mill District’s transformation, or subsiding, as the past is lost to history.

If it doesn’t already sound like an instant classic, consider its location. From the Wilson Avenue entrance to the roundabout, the district’s iconic smokestacks are visible in the foreground and the Cascades in the background. It’s a spine-tingling sight — and a fitting nod to Bend’s heritage.

“This is definitely a site-specific piece,” said Wachs.

A word to would-be admirers: The roundabouts are off-limits to pedestrians.

The roundabout is tentatively scheduled to open today. The artists also plan to landscape the roundabout in the near future.

Source: The Bulletin ©2007

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