Artist seeks help re-creating Oso landmark for memorial

A bronze sculpture will feature mailboxes that once stood along Highway 530 near the Steelhead Haven neighborhood.

Snohomish County is looking for information about the mailboxes that once stood outside the Steelhead Haven community that was destroyed by the Oso mudslide in 2014. Officials involved in the project welcome pictures or stories about the 43 people whose lives were lost.

Snohomish County is looking for information about the mailboxes that once stood outside the Steelhead Haven community that was destroyed by the Oso mudslide in 2014. Officials involved in the project welcome pictures or stories about the 43 people whose lives were lost.

OSO — An artist hopes to start work soon on a permanent memorial for a neighborhood destroyed in the deadly mudslide more than four years ago.

First, Louise McDowell is looking for help re-creating a key landmark. McDowell hopes that pictures, stories and other details can help shape her cast-bronze sculpture of a cluster of mailboxes that once stood along Highway 530, marking the turnoff to this rural community. The boxes belonged to those killed, and others who survived the slide.

“The mailboxes will be set up so you can open the door, and once you open the door, you can see something about the people whose lives were lost,” said Hal Gausman, a division manager with Snohomish County Parks and Recreation & Tourism. “I think it’s going to be something that really moves people when they see it.”

McDowell is known for cast bronze public artwork, mostly in western Washington. Her pieces can be seen at Snohomish High School and Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, among other locations.

She intends to finish the Oso installation in time for the five-year remembrance of the slide, next March 22, Gausman said. She wants to spend time beyond the mailbox installation to do research with families for the future addition of smaller, unique sculptures to go inside each mailbox.

McDowell was among two artists interviewed by the Snohomish County Arts Commission for the project. The commission received five proposals, Gausman said. There’s a budget of about $30,000.

The mailbox sculpture is slated for placement in a permanent gateway to a larger memorial site. The county owns the 13 acres dedicated to that memorial. That project is imagined as a park-like setting on what’s considered hallowed ground for families of the 43 people killed in the mudslide. Most of the land would remain natural, but 4 acres along the Whitehorse Trail through the slide area are to be developed for the project.

That work is being funded through donations. It’s expected to cost upwards of $3 million, according to the project website at That includes design, permitting, prep work and construction.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Got any pictures of the mailboxes that used to stand outside the Steelhead Haven neighborhood near Oso? An artist working on a bronze memorial to mudslide victims is looking for photos and other information to inform her work.

Contact Hal Gausman, Snohomish County Parks and Recreation & Tourism, at 360-805-6729 or

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