POULSBO – When it was time to awaken the Norseman, the 12-foot giant seemed to take on a life of its own Friday.
Project coordinator Bill Austin and Miss Poulsbo Michaela Meeker pulled the rope that released the Norseman’s shroud, but the covering over his head was problematic, as if the giant was not yet ready to be awakened.
Then, fully revealed, he looked like he might step down from his concrete platform to join – or rule – the crowd. Viking horns sounded, adding to the excitement of the moment.
Meeker described the monument as “kind of intimidating” because of its towering size. Still, the unveiling was, to her, “a magical moment.” And the Norseman, which dominates the entrance to Poulsbo at Viking Avenue and Lindvig Way, never failed to impress.
Meeker said she hopes the sculpture, by noted artist Mark Gale of Tacoma, will draw more visitors to Little Norway.
Mayor Becky Erickson said the Norseman is a symbol of the revitalization that is creeping along Viking Avenue since the old Auto Row shuttered, leaving large, vacant lots in its wake.
“It’s the heart, the center [of Poulsbo],” Erickson said of the corner, historically known as the Junction. At one time, this area was part of a thriving neighborhood with a cafe, dairy, farms, grocery, school, service station and shingle mill. Reminders of that era remain: A portion of old road, County Road 59, which is now a walking trail on the west side of Liberty Bay; the restored Martinson Cabin, which was moved to Viking and Lindvig from Bond Road and Stottlemeyer; and the old Nelson Family Farmhouse at Nelson Park. In the 1980s, the auto dealerships came. In the 2000s, the city of Poulsbo used Stimulus Act money to improve the street from Highway 305 to the southern city limits.
In 2009, when the city began those improvements, the intersection of Viking and Finn Hill/Lindvig Way accommodated approximately 24,000 cars a day, according to the city at the time.
Since Poulsbo RV left and the auto dealerships closed, Erickson has been trying to lure new businesses to the thoroughfare. She initiated a city marketing website, CrossroadsPoulsbo.com, which failed to take off (she said Friday that it’s better to reach out directly to prospective businesses than to rely on a website) and at one time toyed with a theme for Viking Avenue, “The Man’s Side of Town,” in reference to the auto-related businesses there. But look past those large vacant lots left by the auto dealerships, and there’s a bank, a brewery, children’s clothing store, a church, grocery, restaurants, and home services. John Deere dealer Washington Tractor occupies the former site of a used car dealership. The Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre rehearses in another former dealership building, within view of the Regal Cinemas.
“I still hope we can find a home for the farmers market on Viking,” Erickson said. (The Farmers Market and North Kitsap Fishline had hoped to acquire the Poulsbo RV site but that fell through.) “We have to continue to court businesses. We have to keep recruiting, keep pushing,” Erickson said.
Others touted the value of public art.
“We have the fountain, we have the waterfront, and now we have this,” said Giovanna Alaimo, a Seattle teacher who lives in Poulsbo.
Public art represents “the veins of our culture. It’s an expression of what’s going on in our area – our culture, our history, the flavor of the area you’re in,” she said.
The Viking is, indeed, quite a work of art. It is made of about 500 pounds of rebar steel and 5,000 pounds of cement. Gale worked from the bottom up — forming the shape of the man piece by piece, then adding Viking details: a thick beard, “leather” belt, a coat of chainmail, a cape, a thick sword and a helmet.
The project was funded by the Bjorgen Beautification Fund.
“Bill and I started working on this a year and a half ago,” Erickson said during the unveiling. “He was the driver. I just followed and picked up the pieces.”
Austin -- whose community projects include Kvelstad Pavilion, the Viking mural downtown, and the Martinson Cabin restoration -- thanked all the contractors that contributed concrete, signage and placed the sculpture. He then introduced the artist, Gale, who was succinct: “I want to thank the mayor and City Council for letting me be a part of the beautification of Poulsbo.”
The unveiling of the Norseman was a highlight of the Viking Avenue Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. The event featured music by the North Kitsap High School Choir and the lighting of the tree next to Martinson Cabin. Among those attending the festivities was Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, whose ancestors knew Poulsbo as tcutcu lats. The crowd toured the Martinson Cabin, enjoyed hot beverages, candy canes, and took hay rides. The tree was donated by St. Mick’s Tree Farm of Kingston.