The statue commemorating the life of Guillermo “Willy” Fisch will continue to stand in the garden owned by his wife after the Bingen City Council rejected the proposal to place the statue on the southeastern corner of Walnut and Steuben streets in a 2-3 vote at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting.
“This comes as a surprise to me,” said artist Douglas Granum, who built the statue from silicon bronze.
Bingen City councilors had been in favor of an alternative position on the opposite corner of Walnut and Steuben. Granum, along with members of the North-shore Community Foundation who funded the project, had recommended to the council in a June council meeting the spot in front of the building where Insitu was formerly housed on Steuben St. The Sept. 17 meeting marked the second time the recommendation was rejected by the council.
In written comments given to the council on the 17th, Granum said, “This work cannot, must not, be allowed to be tossed in some inferior corner as though it had no value.”
“The S.E. corner in addition provides the utmost potential views of the work. In this case nearly if not fully 100%,” Granum wrote.
During the meeting, city officials and public in attendance viewed the location where the foundation recommended the statue should go. Granum said he views the artwork as “something you’re going to be seeing from the road,” citing the traffic the City of Bingen sees daily on SR 14, which passes through downtown.
“You really need to plan all of that ahead, which we have done,” Granum said. “This is the spot. This is the best spot.”
Councilor Phil Jones said he was concerned about the lack of space and the cost of installing the piece on the corner, where the peace pole, which was donated by the Boy Scouts, is located. Granum disagreed that the pole would have to move.
Councilor Isolde Schroder said the council had bigger priorities than the installation of the statue, citing the roundabout project and the Humboldt Street project.
She then suggested the decision on where to install the piece should be tabled.
“I think before winter sets in, it should find a home,” said Mayor Barnes. “It’s up to you if you want to flip [the vote].”
Councilor Ryan O’Connor suggested the southeast corner should be a temporary location for the statue while the foundation and the City install pedestals in preparation for a larger art walk scenario.
“We would like to see more public art and I think we would like to be more involved earlier on in creating something that is what we want to have be the thing that welcomes people into Bingen,” Councilor Catherine Kiewit said.
“You have a lovely figure right here, right now. All you have to do is accept it. You haven’t, but I’m saying, what you just said rings hollow to me,” Granum said in response.
“That’s a great spot for a piece of artwork,” Kiewit said. “I’m just saying I don’t necessarily want to dedicate this spot to this sculpture for all of eternity.”
Kiewit suggested the statue could be placed on the southeast corner temporarily. She said it wasn’t made for the southeast corner, to which Granum disagreed.
“Every art is site-specific.” “A really great piece of art in one spot could be a zero in another spot.”
Jeri Fisch asked for a point of clarification: “The council recommends a location; the foundation owns the sculpture. So … whose final decision is it to accept or reject the recommendation?”
Mayor Betty Barnes confirmed it would be up to the council to place it on a publicly owned spot.
“[The art] was brought to you, and we have apologized that this moved ahead of us and you said you want a plan for the future. The foundation has agreed to work with you on that,” said Jim Lambo, who sits on the board of the Northshore Community Foundation.
“I don’t believe that is a space to have people standing and walking around and enjoying art,” said Councilor Laura Mann. She said the corner, which is located next to a crosswalk, might confuse people driving by the installation for pedestrians attempting to cross the street.
“The vote’s been taken, so now it’s really up to the foundation and the chamber to make their decision because they took on the project,” Jim Lambo responded.
Tammara Tippel, executive director for the Northshore Community Foundation said the foundation will be drafting a formal letter, detailing their perspective on why the statue should be erected in the spot they recommended.
“It feels like their scope is a little narrow,” said Tippel, who is also the executive director for the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce.
“The statue should be considered as a lure to visitors,” Tippel said, and noted that public art helps bring foot traffic in city, which can provide local businesses with more customers.
Tippel said creating the art walk is a goal of the foundation. During a Feb. 5 city council meeting, she said the foundation hoped to unveil art installations yearly to piece an art walk together. Citing how the Sept. 17 meeting played out, she said of the city council and the foundation working together: “It’s going to have to be a partnership from the get-go.”
The statue was built to honor the life of Guillermo Fisch, a former resident of Bingen and an early partner with Insitu. Fisch had passed in 2017.
Granum, who was friends with Fisch for over thirty years, said it’s bigger than Fisch, and that the statue is meant to represent the culture and the city more generally, citing the wine glass and the fish in each hand of the statue. The Gorge area is known for its wine industry and fishing opportunities around the Columbia river.
Fisch was known for hosting weekly dinner parties, a staple of the community that continues to endure through his wife, Jeri Fisch. He had also sat on the Bingen City Council for four years.
“He was a very warm, welcoming kind of guy,” said Fisch of her late husband.
“[Granum] did a nice job of making him look joyful,” she said. She said the statue is a good symbol of the community.
Others felt the statue was not representative of the community because of the alcoholic beverage the statue displays.
“I’m sorry to see that it became so personal,” Fisch said of the council meeting.
“We’ve got to keep the door open for a relationship with the council,” Fisch said.
The Northshore Community Foundation will look to come up with an alternative solution at their next meeting, according to Tippel.
“I’m not quite ready to give up the fight,” Tippel said.
The statue would be the first installation of the proposed art walk that has been a goal of both the Northshore Community Foundation and the Bingen City Council since Tippel presented the idea at the Feb. 5 Bingen City Council meeting.
“Willy had a goal of making three people smile a day. I think the sculpture will help with that goal,” Jeri Fisch said.