A distinctive Puyallup landmark in need of a little love recently received a new coat of paint.
The “Open Heart” statue, which overlooks the intersection of 5th St. SW and West Pioneer in downtown Puyallup, was getting a little faded.
Artist Chuck Fitzgerald decided the statue needed some spiffing up, so he repainted it and placed a sign that declared “Hearts are Bigger in Puyallup.”
The statue, which has been a familiar sight at the intersection for 14 years, has an interesting background. It’s based on a medical episode Fitzgerald experienced 12 years ago.
“I had surgery, and there was so much issue about blood and the importance of blood and what pumps the blood to the heart,” Fitzgerald recalled.
In 2001, Fitzgerald approached Dr. Paul Gerstmann about using his office location at 5th and Pioneer for “Open Heart.” Gerstmann was all for it.
“He said the heart was important and maybe we should get a liver up there, too,” joked Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald felt the statue’s location on the grounds of Gerstmann’s medical clinic was appropriate.
“He was a doctor and the statue has a spiritual meaning and ties into the medical profession,” he said.
Gerstmann has since retired and the building now houses the local Young Life Office. That group was very happy to see the statue restored.
“They were wondering when I was going to clean it up, and when I did the Young Life people said, ‘You will have extra jewels in your crown in heaven,’” Fitzgerald said.
In order to avoid vandalism, Fitzgerald’s solution was to mount the statue on a pole.
Born and raised in Iowa, Fitzgerald studied art in college and worked as an art teacher for 23 years. He was also employed by Boeing for a time and is now retired.
He was one of the founders of Arts Downtown.
“That is a tremendous group,” said Fitzgerald, who served on the board for five years and then made the break to work as a full-time artist. Arts Downtown has purchased two of Fitzgerald’s creations, “Elegant Valley” and “Baseball Player.”
Rosemary Eckerson was also a founding member of Arts Downtown, and said in the mid-90s a lot of Puyallup’s community members were interested in bringing something of substance to the city.
“I was working at Karshner Museum at the time and had heard from museum associations about a program that was going in Wenatchee called “Art on the Ave.”
“They were probably the first public, open art gallery in the state — we’re talking 1996,” she said.
Eckerson traveled to Wenatchee to check out the program, and said the group was extremely helpful.
“They just opened their file cabinets and copy machine and said take anything you want. It was a one-year-old program at that time and we just threw this idea out to our community. We had 30 people at our first meeting — so many people were interested,” she said.
Fitzgerald was one of the first artists to submit art and has always been supportive of the program, Eckerson added.
“Even when he is not offering a piece, he is still there to support the program, and he has a level of expertise because of his artistic ability,” she said.
Gerstmann’s son, Les, said his father told him the statue was a symbol of the life force and the spirit of life.
“The story that I was told by my mother was that the artist had approached my dad and wanted to put it in a prominent part of town,” said Les Gerstmann, adding that his father, who will turn 91 in November, has always had a generous streak.
Fitzgerald is adamant “Open Heart” has a larger meaning to just him personally.
“It is like the Tin Man in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Without a heart, we fall apart,” he said. “That is about the statue and myself. Hearts are the center of things.”