Arts & Culture

Gig Harbor sculptor unveils new work at Tacoma Art Museum’s free Northwest festival this Sunday.

Sculptors have to be patient people – but this Sunday Gig Harbor sculptor Mardie Rees will get a long-awaited reward as her bronze sculpture of WWII Marine Raiders is unveiled at Tacoma Art Museum’s Best of the Northwest free community festival. Running all day, the festival offers free admission as well as curator talks and art activities focusing on the art of sculpture – especially the museum’s upcoming outdoor commissions.

"We’re giving visitors a close-up look into the sculpture process that most people don’t get to see," said TAM director Stephanie Stebich in a press release.

For Rees it also means a chance to have her work seen by many more locals than usual. Nationally-known and prolific, Rees is regularly commissioned for her bronze sculptures, such as "St. Anthony and child" installed in Gig Harbor’s St. Anthony Hospital in 2008. But many are destined to leave Washington – such as "Soul of the Forward and Faithful," commissioned by the United States Marine Raider Foundation for the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. Luckily for Tacomans, TAM board member Bill Driscoll was present when Rees unveiled the pre-cast clay sculpture at her studio, and arranged for the finished work to be shown there until July 27, unveiling at noon this Sunday.

Rees often spends a year or so making the clay prototype of her sculptures, which is then sent to a foundry (in this case, Two Ravens Foundry in Tacoma) to create a mold into which molten bronze can be poured. But this sculpture took even more time and effort. It memorializes the Marine Raiders, the country’s first elite corps formed to fight in the Pacific in WWII; the work stands three feet high and four wide, detailing a Marine Raider with a Browning rifle, a war dog handler and a Navajo code talker, with figures creeping through the jungle behind. Rees researched every detail, from choosing a single battle (Bougainville Island, Nov. 1, 1943) to spending three months compiling a list of all the equipment used there, to recreating the slouch of wet leather covered in mud and finding out which tropical plants would have grown on the island.

She also consulted with ten historical experts, and found two former Marines and a young Navajo man to model some 30 hours each, even wearing wet clothing so she could recreate how the uniforms would have hung when soaked in the jungle.

"It was really involved," says Rees, who’ll speak briefly about her process when the work is unveiled at noon Sunday.

Other speakers at the festival include Dave Anderson of Walla Walla Foundry, explaining how they’ll turn Portland sculptor Marie Watt’s pile of blankets into one of the key outside sculptures near the new Haub wing this November; curator Rock Hushka talking about the other new commissioned sculptures by Scott Fife and Julie Speidel, and Haub curator Laura Fry on bronzes in the Haub collection. Visitors can also make their own relief clay tile in the studio.

The Northwest Community Festival runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 13. Free. Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-4258,