The Wenatchee World
WENATCHEE — Master sculptor Richard S. Beyer, creator of the iconic public sculpture “Waiting for the Interurban” in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, died Monday in New York City. He was 86.
The creator of wry works who displayed a genius for joyful subjects — including dancing, singing people and animals with human expressions — delighted art lovers and non-lovers alike for nearly two generations.
He made hundreds, maybe thousands, of public and private pieces that found their way to cities and collections throughout the Pacific Northwest and the world.
His vision of respect for the common man — along with a love for nature, history, science and playful teasing — marked his works as “populist” by many critics and, at the same time, won him legions of fans.
In particular, most children found Beyer’s animals irresistible — a bull with a cowboy hat, a salmon in skirt and pearls, a coyote in pants reading a book.
“His talent was enormous, just like his personality,” said Richard Wrangle, an artist in Twisp, Okanogan County, and Beyer’s friend for over 50 years. “To make some of his early works, he blasted granite into the shapes of animals — it sounded like jets taking off, chunks flying.
“But it was a perfect process for him,” said Wrangle, “because he was a ‘blasting’ type of guy. He was always in someone’s way, some politician somewhere, questioning their motives and actions and making some noise.”
Beyer was born July 26, 1925, in Washington, D.C., to parents committed to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, a political vision — support for the common man and woman — that carried through the artist’s life and work.
In high school, Beyer showed his creative side early with drawings and art projects. But his day-dreaming often led him to buck authority and he changed schools often. Finally, his creative leanings were recognized at Fairfax (Va.) High School, where he found artistic encouragement.
After serving in the Army, Beyer enrolled in Columbia University in New York and earned a social sciences degree. More importantly, he met and fell in love with Margaret, a childhood friend whom he married in 1948. The marriage lasted 56 years until Margaret’s death in 2004.
Trained as an economist, Beyer moved to Seattle in 1957 to work on a Ph.D. at the University of Washington. While working on his dissertation, he continued to draw and carve small animals for his children and those in the neighborhood. By 1963, he was showing these carvings at local galleries, whose patrons were recognizing a new-found, if rough, talent.
Beyer’s first public commission was in 1968, and from there his art career grew each year. By 1978, he had established a foundry in Seattle’s Fremont District to produce his bronze and aluminum castings.
From there, he made some of his most controversial works, including the beloved “Waiting for the Interurban,” a depiction of people and a dog waiting for a train that never arrives. The dog has the face of a Fremont civic leader who opposed placement of the statue.
In 1988, Beyer moved his foundry to Pateros, Okanogan County, and quickly became a fixture in Central Washington’s burgeoning arts scene.
After Margaret died in 2004, Beyer moved to New York City in 2005 to be with friend Dorothy Scholz. They married in 2007.
Since a stroke in 2001, Beyer had reined in some activities, but not all. Pushing through strenuous rehab, he continued to produce drawings and castings. He suffered a serious stroke March 27 and never woke from it. He died at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital with his wife and son Charles Beyer at his side.
A wake, funeral service and reception will be held Friday and Saturday in New York.
“Rich always searched for subjects that had meaning in people’s lives,” said Steve Love, an assistant to Beyer at the Pateros foundry and a friend for 20 years. “It was accessible and easy to understand. And most of all, it was humorous. People loved his art because it made them smile.”