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Originally published April 12, 2012 at 9:47 PM | Page modified April 13, 2012 at 9:04 PM

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'Waiting for the Interurban' sculptor Richard Beyer dies at 86

Richard Beyer, the artist who created the iconic "Waiting for the Interurban" sculpture that stands in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, has died in New York at 86.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sculptor Richard Beyer created Seattle's best-known and best-dressed public artwork, "Waiting for the Interurban," which sports daffodils on early spring days and wool scarves in winter.

Critics sniffed that the scores of sculptures he created for civic plazas and private clients around the world were corny.

Noted Seattle architect Fred Bassetti, an early admirer of Mr. Beyer's work, observed that the sculptor "wasn't accepted by the gurus of art in Seattle." But, Bassetti said, "he had something else. He had a thoughtfulness about the human condition."

Mr. Beyer died Monday in New York City. His family said he had a stroke March 27 and never regained consciousness. He was 86.

Although he had no formal art training, Mr. Beyer's images of people and animals were often playful and sometimes mischievous — a delighted fisherman kissing a giant salmon with breasts, a well-endowed bull with a cowboy hat placed strategically on its lap. The dog in "Interurban" bears the face of a Fremont civic leader who opposed placement of the statue.

He told a reporter once that he thought art should be for everyone and that more people should unleash their creativity. He saw himself as a fortuitous example — he quit a Boeing job as a young man with a young family — to pursue an unproven talent for carving.

"I'd like to see more people make art," he said in a 2002 interview. "If you see people making art, you know they're not making bombs or going off to war or doing awful things."

Mr. Beyer was born July 26, 1925, in Washington, D.C., to parents committed to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs — a political vision of support for working people that he carried through life.

As a boy in Virginia, he was asked not to return to several boarding schools because of repeated disciplinary infractions. At a Quaker school where students were allowed to design their own projects, Mr. Beyer created a still. When he brought the still home for Christmas, his father decided he needed a more structured school.

During World War II, Mr. Beyer turned down an appointment to the Naval Academy and was drafted into the Army. His unit fought on the Rhone River during the Battle of the Bulge. In a biography about him written by his wife, Margaret Beyer, she said Mr. Beyer was overwhelmed by the death surrounding him.

Mr. Beyer graduated from Columbia University, earned a master's degree in education in Vermont and moved to Seattle in 1957 to work on a Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

While working on his doctorate, Mr. Beyer picked up stone and woodcarving tools as a way to express his feelings about history, folk tales and current events. Some small pieces — human and animal — he carved for his children then began to sell through a Seattle gallery.

In order to support his wife and two children, Mr. Beyer took a job at Boeing, but didn't last long.

"I was a value engineer and was using all my energy for work. I didn't like it."

Mr. Beyer's first public commission was in 1968.

He established a foundry in Seattle's Fremont District to produce bronze and aluminum castings.

He was on the Fremont Improvement Committee in 1975 when city of Seattle engineers suggested installing granite pavers to upgrade the corner of North 34th and Fremont Avenue North.

Mr. Beyer came up with several ideas including "Waiting for the Interurban" — a sculpture of five life-size adults, a baby in arms and a dog, stoically waiting for the electric trolley, the Interurban, which until the 1930s ran from Seattle to Everett.

He received $2,700 for the work and said supporters at the time had to host a benefit party to raise the last bit.

"It's so much a part of Fremont's history and quirkiness," said Jessica Vets, executive director of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. "Rumor has it that there are X number of empty wine bottles inside. A lot of fun was had by Rich and his crew."

Vets says the iconic sculpture is now a "part of Fremont magic. Bunny ears, Santa costumes. They appear and disappear. People have a tremendous creative respect for the sculpture."

Mr. Beyer seemed amused by the reactions to his work. That well-endowed bull sculpture commissioned for the city of Ellensburg greatly upset the president of the local rodeo association, who told Mr. Beyer, "I can recognize Western art when I see it, and this ain't it."

But like the Interurban, it became one of Ellensburg's most photographed attractions.

In 1988, Mr. Beyer moved his foundry to Pateros, Okanogan County. After 56 years of marriage, Margaret died in 2004. The following year, Mr. Beyer moved to New York City to be with a friend, Dorothy Scholz. They married in 2007.

Material from The Wenatchee World and The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.

Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

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