The turbulent and poignant legacy of Peter Bevis, who brought the statue of Kalakala and Lenin to Seattle
Ten years ago, Peter Bevis left Seattle, the city that broke his heart. He had certainly tried with this city.
In a 2008 oral history, he acknowledged, “I don’t think Seattle can do that.
The city simply could not live up to the dreams of this passionate carver who will forever be associated with a failed quest to save the Kalakala ferry. It’s the boat that has mesmerized generations of Seattleites with its visual elegance.
Eventually she became a rusty hulk and in 2015 she was scrapped except for a few bits of memorabilia.
We’re a tech place now. It’s about data analytics, not old relics and oddballs.
Bevis died July 12 at a hospital in Coronado, the San Diego Bay resort in California where he lived, said Gretchen Bevis, his sister, who lives in Cashmere, Chelan County. She says he died of massive kidney and liver failure and was on dialysis. He was 69 years old.
Her dreams ? Bevis had plenty.
In addition to the Kalakala saga which trapped him in a spiral, in 1981 he continued the construction of the Fremont Foundry. It would be “a kind of caring community,” he said, where artists could live and work.
This dream also ended. The building still exists, but there are no artists there. It is a venue for weddings, corporate events and the like.
Bevis funded his plans with income from fishing in Alaska, bank loans, up to 10 credit cards and an inheritance from an uncle, an April 26, 1998 Seattle Times article said. part of the work itself on the foundry, using a jackhammer to demolish an old house on the property, digging a hole in the ground for a bronze casting.
One of his plans still stands.
It’s that 16-foot, 7-ton bronze statue of Lenin in the heart of Fremont. In 1995 Bevis brought it here, the statue then and now a source of controversy. He ignored those who were offended. It was art.
The communist hero’s hands have been regularly painted blood red, and these days the statue has been stained with yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
As news spread on the Seattle Vintage Facebook page, with 107,000 members, that Bevis had died, dozens of messages were posted.
David Ruble had something to say. He is a Bellevue software consultant who for a time joined Bevis’ doomed crusade to save the Kalakala.
“I believe he felt betrayed and his city turned its back on him,” Ruble wrote.
In an interview, he said he hadn’t spoken to Bevis in 20 years. The news of the sculptor’s death shook him. “I think he should be remembered as a visionary who achieved the impossible,” said Ruble.
Bevis was an artist without a business plan for the boat. “He didn’t come captures reality,” says Ruble.
In 2003, the Kalakala Foundation filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, having already ousted Bevis from the board.
This old boat. . . it refuses to leave our collective memories.
The Kalakala was the 276-foot-long art deco masterpiece with a rounded nose and steel plates covered in shiny aluminum paint. She was in the space age, at least when she was launched on July 2, 1935.
She cruised the waters of Puget Sound, ferrying workers shuttling between Seattle and the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. The Kalakala once had padded chairs and hosted its own eight-piece orchestra for moonlight dances.
Even now, its looks are such that one only has to look at a postcard of the boat and it’s mesmerizing.
The state auctioned off the old ferry in 1967. She ended up processing fish and canned food in Alaska. Then, no longer useful for that, it was abandoned on a Kodiak beach, stuck in the mud.
Bevis first saw the desperate Kalakala in 1985 while working in Kodiak as a commercial fisherman with his older brother, Jock Bevis. He has been hit.
He would conclude: “. . . she wants to go home, she wants to float. . .”
Bevis led a team of believers to this beach in 1998, freed the Kalakala, and towed it to Seattle to the cheers of the crowd.
Estimates to restore it have reached $25 million. The cheers and good wishes did not translate into big donations.
Ruble says the Kalakala could have been saved by turning it into a waterfront destination with a restaurant, cocktail bar, ballroom, conference space.
“We had a short list of virtually every wealthy person in town and every government entity. For a year, Peter put on his suit and tie and we gave a presentation. The first step was for someone to say, “Yes,” Ruble said.
Nobody intervened. The new deep pockets of the city had no history or “irrational affinity” for the old ship, Ruble says.
A December 7, 1998 Seattle Times profile on Bevis read, “Like anyone who harbors incandescent confidence in the face of every good reason not to, Bevis can be unflappable and insufferable, inspiring and irritating.”
Over the years, the story goes, he left a trail of girlfriends, wives, administrators and volunteers: “Once he set off firecrackers near a friend’s ear. He knocked over a girlfriend in a portable toilet after a drunken night out; the fall cut his face enough to require plastic surgery. King County court records are littered with Bevis’s name: a restraining order obtained against him in 1997 by the same bruised girlfriend, and a nasty divorce petition from his second marriage. »
Bevis’ Legacy also includes him using the money he earned from fishing for another chimerical project.
Slowly, literally wall to wall, he launched the Fremont Foundry, which would have 11 residence halls with showers and stoves alongside welding tanks and uncut granite.
Back then, Fremont was called a “Artists’ Republic,” and Bevis believed he could create such a mecca. It wasn’t meant to be.
In 2012, Bevis sold the foundry for $2.1 million. He was indebted to the Kalakala, and it was no longer the Fremont that had attracted him. It now includes extensive Google and Adobe offices.
The vision of a community of artists?
“It’s pretty much been eroded away,” Bevis told KOMO News that year when the smelter’s sale was announced. This foundry is now a rented venue for weddings, corporate events and more, with summer prices ranging from $5,000 to $9,500.
Bevis’ involvement with the statue of Lenin – like many in his life – happened in an unusual way.
Just as it had been moved to help a ferry stuck in the mud of Alaska, Bevis felt compelled to haul Lenin’s massive statue out of an Issaquah pasture. The statue had traveled to Issaquah thanks to Lewis Carpenter, an Eastside entrepreneur who, in 1993, had taught English in Slovakia and had seen it at a landfill in the town.
When Carpenter was killed in a car accident, his family had to find someone who wanted Lenin.
Bevis stood up.
In a June 1, 1995 Seattle Times article, he explained that the statue had become personal to him.
“My own brother died two years ago in Alaska in a fishing accident and I have seen my own family still mourn the loss,” he said, referring to Jock Bevis, whom he has long cry.
He continued, “I wanted to help Lewis finish his project. As it stood there in the pasture, the statue was a symbol of the pain my family had endured.
Iin death, as in life, it was complicated for Peter Bevis.
He is survived by his sister and one brother, Tony Bevis, of Colorado Springs. Gretchen Bevis says a bank is the executor of her estate, but she doesn’t know much more.
It is likely that Bevis’s remains will go from Coronado – he had bought his late mother’s house there – to Peshastin in Chelan County, where he grew up.
Pamela Belyea, co-founder of what is now the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, says Bevis knew he was dying and hired her to curate and write about his life. She has had access to his oral history and is in the process of creating a web page about him and his carvings, as well as a Wikipedia page.
“Peter had so many ideas, so much enthusiasm,” she says.
Every once in a while we have to recognize the likes of Bevis.
Cindi Laws, from Seattle, says that for a time in the late 1990s she was close with Bevis.
Laws says, “These are the characters that gave the names to the streets of Seattle. Who are the dreamers now? We admire them a little and then we spit them out.