LANGLEY — A gray whale with a belly of money has beached at the corner of Anthes Avenue and First Street.
What’s up with that?
Spanning 12 feet, the bronze sculpture is a whale of a piggy bank.
“Hope the Whale” is the latest public art by sculptor Georgia Gerber.
She made the famous “Rachel the Pig” at Pike Place Market in 1986. Legend goes if you drop in money and rub its snout you will have good luck.
Two blowholes are money slots on this 950-pound whale of good fortune for Langley.
Hope’s unveiling was slated to coincide with the annual spring festival where people parade through the streets dressed as whales. Due to COVID-19, the great gray whale arrived in June with the fanfare being a small crane, concrete truck and a handful of observers.
About 50 bronze pieces by Gerber are prominent around Washington. These include baboons at Woodland Park Zoo, Husky Stadium’s dog, cows at University Village, a trio of dancing girls on Colby Avenue in Everett and sculptures at libraries in Snohomish County. The list spans eight other states and Japan.
Gerber and her husband, Randy Hudson, a musician, moved from Seattle to Clinton in 1982 and set up an art studio and foundry. Their daughter, Laura Hudson, lives nearby and is an accomplished painter.
“Randy is the behind-the-scenes making-it-happen guy,” Gerber said.
Sculptures in Langley by Gerber include “Boy and Dog” of a teen leaning against a handrail on First Street, “Brush Cutter” by the Historical Museum, “Mary” at St. Hubert’s Catholic Church, otters by the library and birds in the Rob Schouten Gallery Sculpture Garden.
The seaside tourist village, known for its domestic bunnies, art, theatrics and events, is home to the Whale Bell and Langley Whale Center.
Langley Arts Fund, a grassroots arts organization, decided the town needed a whale sculpture and collected money through donations.
“We raised over $122,000 to put that whale in,” member Frank Rose said. A large portion went for engineering and permitting costs as well as the production.
The Langley group asked Gerber to create the whale.
“When they approached me about the whale I wasn’t sure they needed one more of my pieces,” Gerber said. “I tried to encourage them to consider other artists. I’m glad I did the piece for them.”
The day we met up with Gerber in Langley, a group of kids from South Whidbey Children’s Center happened by the whale. Gerber watched as the youngsters swarmed around Hope’s giant torso and dropped coins inside to hear the special clinking sound emitted.
Her grandsons, ages 2 and 5, attend the center but were not in school that day. Their classmates knew who Gerber was.
“They know me as ‘Mario and Grover’s Grandma,’” she said.
The whale is above Seawall Park, overlooking Saratoga Passage where gray whales annually migrate. A nearby bell is rung when a whale is spotted to alert others. Ringing it just for fun doesn’t get you arrested. Worse, it gets you scolded.
The money deposited in Hope is for improvements at Seawall Park, reachable only by a steep hill or lots of stairs. Plans are to make ADA modifications so it is accessible to all.
A sign warns not to climb on the whale sculpture, built to withstand kids who will anyway.
At the base is a lock box. So far, currency has come from several different countries.
“Rachel the Pig” has been fed money from 120 countries over the years and brings in thousands of American dollars annually for social services.
Gerber modeled the sow after a neighbor’s prize winning porker at the Whidbey Island County Fair.
She couldn’t line up a neighborhood whale to model for this job.
“The gray whale is shapeless, almost like a slug. It was really a challenge,” Gerber said. “There were long days trying to get the proportions right.”
Gray whales have a hump and a ridge of sharp bumps along their backs, instead of a dorsal fin.
She chose a gray whale because of its ties to dining in Langley.
“They dig little channels on the shoreline and scoop up the shrimp,” she said. “The pose is that of a whale starting to dive down as if to start that process.”
She’d completed work on the whale when a freak horse riding accident earlier this year threatened more than future projects.
“It could have ended me,” she said.
She sustained breaks in both bones of her arm, a fractured pelvis and broken rib. Her helmet prevented head injury. She was in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for four days.
Recovery at home took months. She has metal plates in her arm.
“I lived in a chair and Randy took care of me,” she said. “I just wanted to sit and rest. Then I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I got up. I’ve turned that corner. I’m back in the studio and back to riding.”
Andrea Brown: email@example.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.