These days when visiting the Price Sculpture Forest, founded and created by Scott Price, notice the colorful cedar feathers floating among the trees as if falling from the sky.
Wood artist Pat McVay’s ‘Icarus Was Here,’ recalls the Greek myth about a boy who flew too close to the sun and fell to the sea. Icarus ignored his father’s warning, and as a result, the beeswax gluing his feathers together melted. Later, the Goddess Athena promised Daedulus, despondent at losing his son, that this story would endure for eternity. Who would have thought a goddess’s prediction nearly 2,200 years old could still be remembered?
Floating Icarus’ one-of-a-kind feathers on suspended stainless steel cables is a work in finesse.
Arborist Jesse Brighten visited the park in early March, adding cable to the trees, which later supported mobile-like hanging cedar feathers 60 feet up into the canopy. Jesse used a slingshot with fishing weights to shoot ropes over a branch. Next up were nylon slings to protect the branches, followed by the cable and the feathers.
Scott Price, his dad Ken Price, and a neighbor helped Jesse and Pat in the assembly, which required muscle and in-the-moment problem solving.
“I love working with Pat because he adapts as he goes to make his art become the best it can possibly be,’ Scott said. “He does not just show up with something and assume it is done. He evaluates it and then returns afterwards to improve upon it. Pat told me, ‘I need to fill the space even better from different viewpoints to seem more scaled to the huge open forest.”
Pat adds, “I had to come back with more and more feathers all the time because it was such a huge space to fit into nature…Everything I do looks so small there.”
“He’d disappear for a couple of days and return with more feathers,” Scott added. “Phase 2 was adding horizontal cables about 12 feet in the air. Since then we’ve waited for the arborist to get there. The windstorms slammed their schedule. Now we’re in Phase 3.”
Phase 3 involved installing the feathers high up in the canopy. Pat said Jesse’s first shot went over the right branch, but the arborist was asked to move the second shot.
“We were amazed, but embarrassed, because we had to ask him to move it over about 12 inches to the right. On the next shot he nailed it perfectly. Wow!”
“Jesse stood on the ground with a sling shot,” Scott added. “The cable was sixty feet up in the air into trees that are 150 feet tall. In this case, the branch that we were looking at is a really good solid healthy branch. We ran into a number of technical issues that took longer than expected. There was a second cable we needed to put another set of feathers up. Both glitches occurred at or near the webbing 60 feet in the air. (Scott chuckles) “We had to resolve everything 60 feet away. Move the cables at different angles. In one case they were twisted and tangled, caught on a broken branch with teeth-like pieces of wood. They were jammed. Ah, Geez. We solved it just by using good geometry and muscle.”
A neighbor, Bob Davenport, had come by to help, Pat said. “Bob went and got his binoculars so we could see what the problem was up there 60 feet in the air. Scott and Ken, his amazing, creative dad, figured out that the lines had flipped over each other and around each other. What a mess, but we finally got it untangled and hoisted half a dozen feathers by the end of the day.”
“I arranged Pat’s feathers in a pattern on the ground, so we’d know how to arrange them up in the trees,” Scott added. “I called Pat over and said this is what I recommend. He agreed. From the main cable we hung cable of various lengths, which allow feathers to spin a bit in the breeze.
“It looks like a shower of feathers,” Ken Price said.
Scott appreciates his dad’s help.
“I call him Volunteer Number One,” Scott said. “Early on before I opened the park, he was right there with me. As far as mixing and hauling concrete then, he was always there with a smile on his face. Yesterday (March 5) when he was there he was helping Pat. My dad is a wood crafter. So of course he and Pat get along great. They talk the same language.”
Pat McVay knows how to coax the spirit out of wood. Self-taught, Pat’s work can be seen all over Whidbey Island and beyond.
More than forty years ago he lived in Paris repairing and making furniture. Later, moving to the Olympic Peninsula, Pat was taken by the natural forms he saw in the primeval forests, which led him to wood carving, and later, as a working wood artist on Whidbey Island.
“Olympic Peninsula, no kidding, it’s so dynamic,” Pat said in a phone call. “The trees that really got me were their big huge roots. Some of the places where they broke and grew back. Other trees, hemlocks, would twist, so they grew like a big corkscrew that grew six feet across. My brother Mike, a very talented carver, also encouraged and mentored me to try wood carving.”
Pat McVay’s wood art is in private and public collections from Florida to California to Vancouver, BC. He is prolific. Nearly 200 carvings of his life-sized King Salmon and Rockfish can be seen at the Crab Pot throughout Pier 57 in downtown Seattle, for example.
If you live on Whidbey, you’ve seen his welcoming sign to Whidbey Island as drivers exit the ferry.
“Most of my work is large-scale carvings from already-downed trees, using tools from chain saws to fine chisels,” Pat said. Regarding his Icarus feather art, he adds, “I go through my wood pile and think this piece isn’t good enough for a bench, I could make a feather.”
Coming from a story-telling big Irish family, Pat McVay said he likes making art with a sense of humor.
“I try to make things seem alive,” Pat added. “Somehow give them some animation. I always loved cartoons. When I was a little kid, my older sister, she loved to draw and paint, my brother liked making cartoons. I’d take the funny papers and trace the characters. Then I started making cards for my friends, or maybe a Valentine card and put my own captions in.”
Pat McVay lives in Clinton with his wife Katie and son Reilly.
“He is my island special,” says his cheery wife Kate McVay, laughing.
“I’m serious about having fun,” Pat added. “It’s true. Life is short. Yeah, there’s a lot of things going on. You just pick up and keep going. Really helps to have projects that you’re excited about, ones that make you excited to get up and go.”
Pat’s get up and go is evident in the thought he’s put in to carving the feathers, burnishing them, giving them color, placing an eye-bolt strategically to achieve the right balance while suspended 60 feet in the air from a cable.
He said he likes telling stories with his art, stories such as the wings of Icarus falling from the sky.
“Icarus could be a tale for now,” Pat said in a previous interview. “He wasn’t listening to advice and got burned.”
Humor is found in many of Pat’s pieces.
“It’s fun to make people chuckle if you have a chance,” Pat adds. “To laugh at follies of what people do.”
One such folly is seen in Pat’s sculpture of a man being buried by junk mail. This piece stands at the Clinton Post Office.
Years ago Pat was awarded the commission to carve a salmon’s life evolution for the Outdoor Classroom on Maxwelton Road. Run by the Whidbey Watershed Stewards, the outdoor education center has been closed the past year during the COVID pandemic.
His carving from a single tree shows a hand releasing baby salmon into the water. The salmon spirit is evident and Pat’s attention to detail creates natural wood-grain contours in the shape of a salmon.
Great to meet an artist like Pat, so comfortable in his skin. He rambles on in conversation, which flows like a wild river, about wood, stories, and humor.
Catch Pat’s interpretation of a very old story by visiting Icarus was here.
And to view more photos of the Phase 3 installation, visit A shower of feathers, Part 2.