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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Art

‘Home once and for all’: Swans return to Manito Park, but in climbable form

UPDATED: Thu., May 5, 2022

Artist Vincent De Felice designed his sculpture of swans to be strong and smooth with no sharp edges.

“What I like about the sculpture is that it can be touched,” he said.

Indeed, soon after a crowd counted down and a flapping white sheet was removed unveiling the piece, called “Love Birds,” children flocked in and began to climb, hug and ride the swans in Manito Park.

“It was so automatic,” De Felice said. “It wasn’t but 50 seconds and they were crawling on it.”

The bronze sculpture of two swans, whose combined necks resemble a heart, sits along a sidewalk on the eastern edge of the pond. It was unveiled by De Felice and a group of children in a ceremony Wednesday morning.

Pairs of mute swans were once big attractions at Manito Park’s Mirror Pond, and De Felice wanted to “return their spirit and legacy to the park.”

“The goal was to create a beloved tribute to the park’s history for everyone to enjoy,” he said in a speech before the unveiling.

The last pair of swans at Manito were struck by a car in 2006, killing one and leading a vet to determine the other needed to be euthanized. Park officials believed the act was malicious. Talk of finding a new pair of mute swans was quashed by a state law barring further importation of mute swans, which are nonnative, have a reputation for being aggressive and can drive out other native species.

Still, they were a popular attraction from the early days of the park.

“One of the most interesting winter sights at Manito is that of the swans and other water fowl, which waddle out across the snow to the open space of the pond, maintained for their winter sport,” The Spokesman-Review wrote in December 1912. “Here on the coldest days they float and dive as merrily as though it were summer time.”

De Felice, who donated his time to create the piece, first proposed the concept to Washington Trust Bank in 2016. Bank officials agreed to completely finance it, and together they proposed the idea to Spokane park leaders, eventually winning support of the Spokane Park Board. De Felice said the project cost about $40,000.

Spokane Park Board members Gerry Sperling and Bob Anderson said they’ve been awed by the community effort led by De Felice and the bank.

Sperling, like many on hand for the ceremony, remembered watching the swans at Manito.

“There’s nothing more glamorous and graceful to watch – even when they’re sleeping,” she said.

Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones said the timing of De Felice’s proposal fit with a major rehabilitation of the pond that started in 2019. That project deepened it and added other features, in part, to help prevent annual algae blooms.

De Felice said he worked on the swans in his studio east of Gonzaga University not far off Trent Avenue. He created a clay model, working on and off over the course of a few months. The clay sculpture was used by a foundry in Joseph, Oregon, to make a mold that cast the bronze version in the summer of 2020.

Back at his studio, he “falsely aged” it with heat and chemicals to change the tones and colors.

The swans, which weigh more than 200 pounds each, were installed Monday.

Pandemic issues caused the delay in the final installation.

“The poor swans have been sitting in my studio for almost two years,” he said.

He said he was not worried about creating anatomically perfect models of mute swans.

“It’s really about the relationship between the swans, not just to each other, but to the surroundings and the interaction with parkgoers,” De Felice said in his speech. “It is really about the essential form, the silhouette and creating the sentiment.”

De Felice’s best known sculpture likely is his 5-foot bulldog sculpture outside McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga University, which was dedicated in 2007. But he also created “Joe Fan,” a bronze sculpture of Joseph A. Albi that was installed at Joe Albi Stadium in 1997. De Felice said it will be moved to the stadium that will replace Albi that is now under construction.

His other works include a statue of Louis Davenport at the Davenport Hotel; “The Three Companions,” a sculpture at his alma mater, Gonzaga Prep, of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Faber; and “Memorial to the Unborn” at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Park officials said they selected a location near the pond where it would be accessible and reinforce, not overwhelm, the beauty of the park. All it displaced was a garbage can.

“It will be fun to come down here on any given day and see kids playing on it,” Anderson said.

De Felice told the crowd that the project is a “safe way” to bring the birds “home once and for all.”

“The swans have finally returned to Manito Park – once again, bringing joy to our hearts,” he said.

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