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Richard Beyer, Artist Whose Whimsical Work Made Area Residents Smile, Dies

An Artist and Sculptor whose works grace the cities of Burien and Des Moines passed away this week – Richard S. Beyer died Monday in New York City, after suffering from a stroke March 27 and never regaining consciousness. He was 86.

Beyer is perhaps best known to area residents for his whimsical sculptures around the Burien and Des Moines area, including 1994’s “The Big Catch,” a controversial cast bronze work depicting a man kissing a fish:


Richard Beyer's 'Big Catch' in Des Moines. Click image to see larger version. Photo by Michael Brunk.

Here’s a description about Big Catch from Beyer’s website [2]:

A fisherman kissing a fish with human breasts was shocking to some, yet the Chamber of Commerce in Des Moines, WA, reluctantly approved Beyer’s design in 1994. Controversy continued even after it was cast in bronze and placed in a new town park. To make folks more accepting of the design which he did not want to change, Beyer concocted a legend to explain: “A fisherman was in love with a beautiful young maiden, but the Wicked Witch of Puget Sound fell in love with her too. The Witch cast a spell and turned the maiden into a fish. The sad fisherman spent years searching for her in the waters. One day while fishing off the pier in Des Moines, he saw a big fish in his net and knew it was his love. He pulled her up, kissed her, dancing for joy. She was transformed back into the beautiful maiden and they lived happily ever after.”

Beyer is also known for three works that are still in Burien’s Dottie Harper Park (click images to see larger versions):




Beyer created many other sculptures around the Northwest, including the notable “Waiting for the Interurban” in Fremont and many others. Here’s what Artist Guy Harper had to say about Beyer and his work:

I campaigned to have the huge wood tree stump with the carved small people circling the stump renovated as it was rotting…and that was done a few years ago. I also requested the city to move the Stump People to a more viewable Burien location…that has not been done…and so it remains down over the hill and I would imagine few folks have seen it and may not know something like that is even there!

Additionally, Richard carved a frog on top of a huge granite rock….which also was a fountain.   This four foot rock now at the head of the children’s metal slide inside the same park. That should also be moved to a more prominent location and the fountain restored.

The last item is an 18 inch diameter Western Red cedar 4 foot long log with carved cups in the top which is now deteriorating. This was supposed to be a Native game requiring the contestants to lob pebbles into the cups. The underside is a carved bear. This is located just above the Stump People carving.

Again, these works of art should be in a more prominent location so that the community may enjoy the sight and history of Richard’s pieces.

Here’s more from a bio on Beyer’s website [2]:

Richard Beyer

Richard S. Beyer did not start out to become an artist. But his artistic sensibilities and drive to translate stories into visual form were evident from early childhood. As a young father in Levittown, NY, he loved to make up imaginative stories and invent toys for his young children, Elizabeth and Charles. When the family moved to Seattle, Beyer began to make small carvings as a way to handle academic and job related frustrations. He was mostly self-taught, and enjoyed experimenting with various materials. As the quantity of carvings grew, he exhibited them in local galleries and began to attract public attention. He acquired many admirers and this lead to an ever-growing clientele for private works and commissions. Ideas for pieces came from his knowledge of history, poetry, folklore and myths, the Bible and current events, as well as personal feelings about politics and the human condition. He used as many natural materials as he could find – from cedar driftwood and downed cedar trees, to varieties of granite that he found in stone yards or quarries. As Beyer developed his technique for working in cast aluminum, he made hundreds of small cast aluminum pieces for friends and private collectors, as well as a few large-scale works. Frequently when Beyer was working on a public commission in some town, he would meet people in the area who were attracted to his work. Many of these people became lasting friends and private collectors of Beyer sculpture.

“It will be the biography of a man who became an artist to realize the promise of self-expression in America in the world today. He was stupidly creative. The world was falling apart in the 80 or so years of his life. He built on stories of love, friend and narrow self-interest, it returned to love and the whole story is told as a study of love. The universe is affirmative.” … “What I did was to more or less blindly explore the nature of things I saw and heard stories about. There was no music in it, some poetry and some song, but mostly the frustration of peoples creativity and their love of working with one another.” (RSB)

So…next time you’re in Dottie Harper Park or Des Moines, stop and pay your respects to a very creative Artist while admiring his amazing work.

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