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Originally published October 2, 2009 at 12:14 AM | Page modified October 22, 2009 at 11:03 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Hammering Man joins the jobless with a disability

They found the bulge during a routine checkup and immediately insisted on rest. That meant no moving, and certainly no more of the constant up and down, day after day. That can't be easy when you're the Hammering Man.

Seattle Times staff columnist

They found the bulge during a routine checkup and immediately insisted on rest.

That meant no moving, and certainly no more of the constant up and down, day after day.

That can't be easy when you're the Hammering Man.

The iconic, 48-foot-tall sculpture in front of the Seattle Art Museum has been idle since June, when workers painting over graffiti discovered a bulge in his shoulder that turned out to be a shifted counterweight.

The gear drive was removed and sent to Cone Drive Operations in Traverse City, Mich. Fabrication Specialties, of Seattle, will rebuild the motor and make repairs to the arm here.

This artistic equivalent of rotator-cuff surgery was bound to happen.

Hammering Man was created by sculptor Jonathan Borofsky to represent the working man. Since his installation in 1992, he's logged some 90,000 hours, striking four times a minute. That's about 21.6 million hits.

For that, the 22,000-pound steel-and-aluminum Hammering Man only gets one day of rest — Labor Day — for every year he's spent enduring rain, snow, camera flashes, Ride the Duck quacks and whatever else comes down First Avenue.

"This year, he's having a little bit of a longer break because of the extent of the repairs," said Lori Patrick, the public-relations manager for the Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. "You can get an oil change, but this is more of a motor rebuild or a new transmission."

The repairs will cost about $46,000 — city money designated for the maintenance and conservation of public art, she said.

Hammering Man should be back on the job by the end of the year.

As I stood below him the other morning, I couldn't help but pick up a whiff of irony, maybe a new symbolism.

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The best-known worker in Seattle stopped working in the middle of a recession, and just as the state's jobless rate reached the highest level in more than a quarter-century: 9.2 percent, as of August.

"Lots of people aren't working around here," quipped Camille Griep, who lives in Lynnwood and works nearby. "I figured the Hammering Man not working was a sign of the times."

Griep's co-worker, Glenn Szerlong, figured the museum was cutting back, just like everyone else in the country.

"I thought they were just trying to save on electricity," he said.

Oh, but the musing over one man's motionlessness doesn't stop there.

Across the street at Stella Caffe, owner Rob Wilson wondered why the repair work had been sent out of state.

"This guy represents workers everywhere, but let's face it, people here need the job," Wilson said. "I'm not paying the city to send the repair work to Michigan. I reckon folks here need the money, too, right?"

They could also use the comfort of seeing a Seattle icon hammering us through the hard times.

"We miss him hammering because it's as integral a part of the piece as anything," said Nicole Griffin, spokeswoman for the Seattle Art Museum. "He's meant to be a kinetic work of art."

More than that, though, when the Hammering Man is working, Seattle is, too.

"He's part of Seattle's personality," Griffin said. "The view doesn't feel right."

No one knows that better than Will Peterson, who spends his days cleaning the streets of Seattle for the Metro Improvement District, while the Hammering Man labors nearby.

Peterson looked up at the Hammering Man like a friend on an extended medical leave since the start of summer.

"Has it been that long?" he said, shaking his head. "Poor guy."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Three quacks to Capt. Barney Cole.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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