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Newport’s Nye Beach prepares to welcome a new ‘Ambassador’ this month

The “Ambassador's Portal” by Ken McCall replaces a beloved sculpture as the city expands its public art offerings with plans for five more new pieces and an arts garden.

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"The Ambassador," Nye Beach's beloved sculpture by Ken Briseño, was determined to be too ravaged by time and coastal weather for restoration. Newport plans to dedicate its replacement, the "Ambassador's Portal" on Sept. 30.
“The Ambassador,” Nye Beach’s beloved sculpture by Sam Briseño, was determined to be too ravaged by time and coastal weather for restoration. Newport plans to dedicate its replacement, the “Ambassador’s Portal,” on Sept. 30. Photos courtesy: Sandy Blackman

It’s not exactly a secret that Newport’s Nye Beach is home to nearly 20 pieces of public art, some as obvious as a park bench, others almost hidden in grassy nooks – all accessible and open to touch. The pieces — created by artists renowned for their work in wood, glass, bronze, concrete, and mixed media — feature subjects ranging from life-sized whale bones and children at play to towering abstracts bound to pique imaginations. And yet, the idea of a bona fide art walk along neighborhood streets and wind-worn headlands is really not all that well known.

That may change soon as the city prepares to add half a dozen new sculptures to the oceanfront neighborhood.

Four of those will be featured in a new garden park, along with a donated 9-foot-tall steel-and-copper piece soon to be revealed outside the Performing Arts Center, and the sculpture replacing the city’s beloved Ambassador, set to be dedicated at 6 p.m. Sept. 30 at Don & Ann Davis Park. Boise sculptor Ken McCall named it the Ambassador’s Portal.

“It is a tribute to The Ambassador,” McCall said. “It represents a borderline between land and water. The portal part represents land, and the aluminum waves represent water. The sculpture is a portal allowing travel home.”

The Newport Public Arts Committee had planned to restore the original Ambassador, created by Sam Briseño and installed in 2005, until it was deemed unsafe and beyond repair about two years ago. Briseño died in 2015. Shortly after it was determined The Ambassador could not be saved, the committee put out a request for proposals to replace it. The committee received 19 responses from eight states and one from a firm with offices in Sydney, New York, and London.

After meetings via Zoom and in person, the applicants were whittled down to a short list of five with McCall ultimately winning the $45,000 commission. McCall’s public art is also on display at numerous sites in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, as well as in Texas and Colorado. Long before McCall learned of Newport’s efforts to replace Briseño’s Ambassador, the artist knew the piece.

“Oh, I loved it,” McCall said. He knew people had a lot of feeling for the sculpture, he said, as evidenced by the space taking on its name. “So, to bulldoze the space without mentioning it felt odd to me and intrusive.”

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

The Ambassador’s Portal is about 17 feet tall, made primarily of weathering steel, a specialized steel designed for marine areas and requiring less maintenance than other metals in the coast’s harsh environment. The waves on the sculpture are aluminum, and hidden inside the piece are bits of the original Ambassador

“The Ambassador’s Portal was something we really liked,” said Catherine Rickbone, chair of the Public Arts Committee. “Among other things, there’s the nod to the actual Ambassador up there in the full moon at that top of the arch. There are the faces of the moon that really influence the ebb and flow of tides. As a committee, we really liked the design and his thoughts about it, how it was constructed.

“We have to be so careful about the caustic environment of the weather here,” she said. “Any homeowner here knows that you install a doorknob and what does it look like in a couple of weeks? He understood the environment and how corrosive and caustic it can be.”

McCall has deep roots in Oregon – his great-great-grandfather, great-great-grandmother, and his mother all were born here.

While the new Ambassador is in roughly the same place as the old, McCall did tweak the final location. “Originally, they were planning on putting it where the original Ambassador was, opposite the parking lot,” McCall said. “It was my idea to move it across the parking lot and put it between the ocean and parking – the beach side. Originally, with The Ambassador on the other side of the parking lot, if someone was parked there with a car it would be impossible to get a decent picture.”

The Newport Public Arts Committee is now also working to add five new sculptures near the Newport Performing Arts Center. One is a 9-foot tall weathering-steel-and-copper pegasus with dichroic glass wings. It was donated to the city by sculptural artist Jesse Swickard, who recently moved from his home and studio near Sherwood to Idaho. The piece will be dedicated this fall after engineers create a base and install it.

The city is also planning an art garden at the Performing Arts Center, which will feature four standard and interchangeable bases. Art chosen for the space will be on display for two years, then replaced with new sculptures.

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

“It’s a way of getting a huge variety of public art, with exposure for the artists and at a minimal cost to the city,” said Cynthia Jacobi, Newport City Councilor and council liaison the arts committee. “Art gives local people a sense of pride and place. It stimulates imagination. It’s part of the face of a town and it gives people something to ponder and think about. Art says all kinds of things.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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