A road trip for art lovers reveals maritime culture in sculptures, murals and more.
In Lincoln City, a creature has been born. Named “Poppy,” this 24-foot-high stainless steel outdoor sculpture with antennae and four feet greets visitors on Highway 101 from the front lawn at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. The whimsical, interactive work by Portland-based artist Pete Beeman is the latest of several public art installations planned for the area — and one of many on the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.
Using the trail’s self-guided map as you travel up or down the Oregon Coast’s 363 miles, you’ll find an astonishing 800 sculptures, murals and various craftworks — all accessible to the public and free. From giant sea creatures to a new statue commemorating African-American settler Louis Southworth, check out the public art that tells the story of the Coast.
Sculptural Trees and Totem Pole Art on the North Coast
Artist and curator Drea Rose Frost led a team to select 45 pieces by 30 artists to enhance the recently renovated Seaside Civic & Convention Center. Inside you’ll find Northwest-themed art in various mediums including tapestry, oil paintings and print. One luminous piece is an elegant glass tree by artist Jeremy Furnish — a sparkling marvel with 7,000 individual kiln-fused glass leaves from roughly 700 wine bottles. Outside the convention center is another of his tree sculptures, this one constructed from stainless steel. On the river side of the building, Josh Blewett’s swirling globe of driftwood seems to defy gravity, nimbly balancing atop a boulder, built to weather the coastal rains.
Often hailed as one of the top art towns in the nation, Cannon Beach has long been a haven for artists. Bursting with sea-inspired galleries and studios, the city also has a robust collection of public art installations with a self-guided 1.5-mile walking tour of the pieces including sculptor Georgia Gerber’s bronze tufted puffins. One of the more recent additions is a 10-foot cedar Clatsop Welcome Pole carved by Native American artist Guy Capoeman, who is currently president of the Quinault Indian Nation. Set on the banks of Ecola Creek at NeCus’ Park, the stately monument honors the area that was a welcoming place for Tillamook, Clatsop and Nehalem tribes.
Fishing Murals and Black History on the Central Coast
Poppy isn’t the only creature artwork on the Central Coast. Over 20 vibrant murals of brave fishers and colorful deep-sea creatures swim and scud across the sides of buildings along Newport’s buoyant seaport, illuminating the state’s maritime history. (There’s even a family-friendly scavenger hunt dedicated to the murals.) Artist Rick Chambers painted the majority of the salty scenes that include solitary fishing boats weathering storms and a barnacled whale breaching. Find the newest mural on the side of the beloved restaurant Local Ocean. Artist Monica Milligan painted a celestial scene of Old Man Winter blowing a fleet out to sea, a tribute to Clement “Pogo” Grochowski, the lifelong fisher who helped launch the seafood market over a decade ago.
Bronze sculptor Pete Helzer’s work graces countless parks and public spaces across the state, including tributes to author Ken Kesey and activist Rosa Parks in Eugene. He brings meaningful history to life once again with his latest commission, a life-size bronze statue of Louis Southworth playing his beloved fiddle. This homage to an under-the-radar Oregon settler — who was born an enslaved person and later bought his freedom and became a farmer, blacksmith, homesteader and philanthropist — is on display at the Alsea Bay Bridge Visitor Center and Museum in Waldport. The statue will eventually move to a new 12-acre park that will further celebrate his story.
Ocean-Debris Sculptures and a Legend on the South Coast
In downtown Coos Bay, you’ll find the only artistic tribute to an Oregon athlete on the art trail. Three vibrant murals honor the grit and spirit of international long-distance running icon Steve Prefontaine. Designed by Oregon artist Erik Nicolaisen, the three murals illustrate significant phases of Pre’s running career. The first captures his youthful spirit as a national record-breaking track athlete in his hometown of Coos Bay, the second is the collegiate star at the University of Oregon, and the third highlights his competition at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
Cosmo the Tufted Puffin at Coquille Point — created by the artists at the environmental nonprofit Washed Ashore — is one of the most famous coastal creatures built from plastic pollution and ocean debris. Other thought-provoking pieces made with the mission to save the sea include the 15-foot-long Henry the Fish, found near Bandon Coffee Cafe, and Finnian the Tiger Rockfish at the Port of Bandon. Since 2010 Washed Ashore has rallied thousands of volunteers and transformed over 30,000 pounds of plastic debris to create over 70 sculptures to raise awareness.
– By Kerry Newberry