Submitted by San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

A new sculpture was installed at San Juan Islands Sculpture Park on Saturday, Oct. 12. It is comprised of three pieces depicting members of the Southern resident orcas. The pieces are carved from western red cedar by local artist Jim Burgess.

Jim and his family have had a love for the orcas dating back to 1999 when they visited the island and, among other things, went fishing. Kristen Burgess, Jim’s wife, shared the tale of how during that trip their daughter Kara, then 4 years old, was slapping the water with her hand. When asked what she was doing, Kara replied, “I’m calling the whales to come visit us.” Kristen and Jim laughed and explained that it doesn’t work like that, but Kara kept slapping.

About five minutes later, L67, Splash, showed up with then newborn Luna, L98. Both Splash and Luna circled the boat about three times before finally saying goodbye, Kristen said. Kara said, “See I told you,” and from then on the family had a strong connection to the whales.

Through The Whale Museum, the Burgesses participated in the whale adoption program and when they received adoption papers with more information, they were shocked and saddened to learn about high levels of contaminants in the orcas’ bodies.

Kristen, a geologist whose work included cleaning up waste sites, contacted Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research to see if she could offer any help and so began the family’s quest to bring awareness to the plight of the Southern residents.

Fast forward to about 2014 and Jim, an arborist and wood artist who makes carved bowls and tables was helping to remove an ailing tree for safety reasons at a golf course in Everett, Washington. A huge, beautiful old western red cedar came down and broke into pieces on the fairway and in those solid, broken branches Jim saw whale dorsal fins.

Jim very carefully took the pieces home and after letting them season outside for about four years he began carving to let the orcas be seen. He mused about the process, saying he was inspired by the words of Michelangelo and Rodin, that an artist can see the subject coming out of the wood.

“The tree did all the work, all I did was clear away the clutter,” Jim said.

In Summer 2018, Kara, who at the time worked at the Center for Whale Research, mentioned the carvings to Balcomb. He was very intrigued, and allowed Jim to place it at the center’s outreach office in Friday Harbor. This began the sculpted orcas’ journey of raising awareness of their plight. The orcas were soon featured at the “Deep Dive” documentary film presentations and the San Juan Island fundraiser for the community theater. That journey continues at the Sculpture Park.

As you enter the sculpture park and walk toward the pond, you will see them at the water’s edge, circling the San Juan Island bench. There they will remain through November before being moved indoors for the winter, to be displayed at the Center for Whale Research, 185 First St. in Friday Harbor. The carvings will return to the sculpture park next spring.

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