A new dragon is coming to Deane's Children's Park.
The same artist who created the first dragon in 1965 is working on a replacement. His name is Kenton Pies, and he now lives in Montana. He is 81.
"It actually took a lot of online research and digging to find people originally involved in the project, as we could no longer read the name of the artist on the signature that is on the dragon," said Amber Britton, the arts and events coordinator for the City of Mercer Island.
The city did not own the park at the time of the dragon's installation, and no records of the project were available. In the city clerk's office, Britton found a reference to the Deane family being involved with the dragon project. She then located Mrs. Deane, who put her into contact with the anonymous donor who provided funds for the project and chose the artist. The donor was able to provide Pies' name. Britton then found his website — he is an artist in Montana.
"Not seeing sculptures on his site, I was a little worried I had not found the right person, but I sent him an email and left a voicemail message and was thrilled when he wrote me back and was so touched that we had thought of him after all these years," Britton said. "Once I explained the condition of the existing dragon, he was very enthused about the project."
"I was flabbergasted," Pies said, of being contacted after all these years. "I was surprised, flabbergasted."
The dragon, 50 feet long and weighing six tons, has fallen into disrepair. Several different coats of paint have been applied into it over the decades — paint that is now peeling away. The dragon, however, will not be removed completely. Parks and Recreation intends to place the dragon's head in some bushes nearby.
A contract has been signed and Pies has started building the frame of the new dragon, which will be 45 feet long and 6 1/2 feet in height. He is building the frame in four pieces with an assistant, Derek Von Heeder, in Plains, Mont. The frame consists of rebar, metal scrap, quarter-inch by three-inch steel plate, steel bars, and it is also being welded together. It will be a mottled green with acid wash-tinted coloring and realistic scales.
The total cost of the dragon is estimated at $60,000, which includes installation. The Mercer Island City Council approved the amount to be paid out of the 1% For The Arts fund.
Pies will be using the Shotcrete and Gunite methods, which are commonly used for spraying concrete onto large structures and walls. The concrete truck comes in, a compressor is hooked onto it, and the concrete is blown onto the surface through a big hose.
"It is so far beyond what I did 48 years ago," Pies said. "In those days, I was just doing it myself; I was just tying wire together, more or less, and hand-mixing concrete. This one is much more sophisticated."
Pies said he was living in Kirkland at the time.
"A close friend of mine at that time suggested that I do this," Pies said of the old dragon. "I came up with the concept; he donated a small amount of money. I was 33, didn't have a lot of business at the time, and I had no idea when I first did it, how much of a joy it was going to be to the public. I had no way of knowing or predicting that. Since then, of course, I've had people that run into me, say, 'Oh, you built the dragon on Mercer Island.' Now it has turned out to be a real good thing that I did it, because there have been thousands of kids that have played on it."
Pies has resided in Plains for eight years, after selling his property in Washington. He and his wife have two daughters and two grandchildren.
Normally he does not work on out-of-state projects. The last such project was located in the Grand Canyon, in the early 1990s. He created a three-story canyon wall with a waterfall coming out of it, in the Squire Inn, and installed a few sculptures.
For the new dragon project, he's having to pay $7,000 in Washington state sales tax plus a federal income tax, which all must come out of the budget.
"The dragon will be trucked over in a few large pieces and then 'clipped' together before the concrete works begins on site," Britton said.
The installation is expected to take place sometime in October. The Mercer Island Arts Council is planning a celebration of the new dragon that will include music, play, refreshments and more, this autumn.
Anyone who would like to support the community celebration may contact Bonnie Bradley, of the Mercer Island Arts Council, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenton Pies holds a clay model of the new dragon that will be installed in Deane's Children's Park in October. Jana Robertson/Contributed Photo.