Sultan sculptor creating J.P. Patches statue

SULTAN— Any sculpture in human form carries with it a pulse to be found and captured, sculptor Kevin Pettelle said.

“I learned by working with human rhythms and patterns that are in everything that’s organic,” he said.

In his 28 years of focus on sculptures of people and animals, he has gathered together the skills needed for his latest labor of love, a 50th anniversary tribute to his childhood heroes J.P. Patches and Gertrude.

“The real critical detail areas are figured out and done; the faces, hands and the feet,” Pettelle said. “I’m finishing the fabric, the folds in J.P.’s pants, the patches textures and the fabric styles.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of J.P. Patches’ first television broadcast in the Northwest. The show, featuring Chris Wedes of Edmonds as J.P. and Bob Newman of Seattle as Gertrude, ran for 23 years and ended in 1981.

A bronze statue was called for, so a group of Patches Pals and the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences hired Pettelle to immortalize the Northwest’s most famous clown and his sidekick, Gertrude.

They’ve raised at least $125,000 of the roughly $160,000 needed for the work.

Supporters hope the sculpture, called “Late for the Interurban,” will be ready in time to be unveiled at the June 21 Solstice Day parade in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, where it will be installed near the “Waiting for the Interurban” statue.

“When you’re watching the ‘J.P. Patches Show,’ it’s anything but static, so I wanted to do something with movement in it,” Pettelle said. “When Ketchikan the Animal Man (a Newman character) came in doing a jig, they’d hook arms. In ‘Late for the Interurban,’ they’re running in opposite directions and accidentally hook arms.”

The characters have a lot of contrast, Pettelle said. Newman is large and masculine, but wearing a dress; Wedes is more graceful, yet masculine.

“When you look down in a plan view, it looks almost like a ying and a yang,” he said.

The details will make the sculpture more powerful, he said.

“As an artist, you want to reflect what the subject is and carry beyond what the subject is,” Pettelle said. “I want it to reflect his life, and have more meaning than just a lot of random stuff.”

He’s also working to integrate a Greek flag for Wedes’ heritage, and pieces of the show’s jokes or props.

“When you’re working in the studio, you’re focusing in on certain objectives: Get the boot right, the shoelaces right, the eyes right, but then how to bring depth to the sculpture,” Pettelle said.

Pettelle’s half-size statue trekked to Olympia last week for a J.P. Patches Day tribute with Gov. Chris Gregoire. The next step will be to digitally scan the small sculpture and enlarge it, followed by a complicated casting process that ends with two 6-foot bronze figures.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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