Josh Porter's link to Paul Bunyan continues to grow.
"Paul Bunyan has kind of been a life for me here," the artist said. "It's kind of funny all of this has happened."
Porter, who owns Avalon Studios, designed and constructed the Paul Bunyan statue at the Brainerd Lakes Welcome Center south of Brainerd on Highway 371. He repainted Brainerd's talking Paul Bunyan, now at This Old Farm on Highway 18. He also is the coordinator for the Oxtrot, which hopes to display more than 30 Babe ox statues throughout the lakes area in an art expedition in 2008. And now he's restoring "small Paul" or the Paul Bunyan and Babe statue outside the Brainerd Lakes Chamber office along Washington Street.
Artist Josh Porter, Avalon Studios, worked on the face of Paul Bunyan last week. The statue of Paul and Babe, along Washington Street at the Brainerd Lake Chamber's downtown Brainerd office at the historic water tower, is undergoing a restoration. The statues have been part of the lakes area since the 1930s.
Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
Work to repair the Paul and Babe statue in downtown Brainerd began Monday. The renovation work is expected to take about two weeks. The work includes strengthening the statues - which were created from a wood skeleton, wire mesh and layers of concrete - and protecting them from the weather. As the statues aged, water and the elements did their work through the thaw and freeze cycle. Wood rotted away inside. Concrete layers decayed and paint peeled off.
The statue, with a waving Paul resting his arm on a grazing Babe, was originally built by a transient visiting the lakes area in 1935-36, the chamber reported, noting that was at least 10 years before an animated and much larger Paul Bunyan was an attraction at the Chicago railroad fair.
Lisa Paxton, chamber chief executive officer, said in a news release that visitors and residents enjoy having their photo taken with Paul and Babe. "This project will ensure that these figures will be around for generations to come," Paxton said.
The chamber reported renovation work will include removing loose materials and paint, patching and rebuilding cracked and deteriorated areas, coating the entire statue in a protective element, and priming, painting, and clear coating the statues.
Porter used a modeling compound to help shape Paul's face. A flexible epoxy on the rest of the statue is the same as that used in outdoor zoo exhibits. Porter said it will withstand the freeze and thaw conditions. While working on Paul's face, Porter was struck by how large the statue's head is. The head was created separately from the statue's body. Part of Porter's work is to balance Paul's body a little more so the parts are symmetrical.
The final paint will reflect a historic Americana style, the chamber reported. Porter said he wants to bring back a sense of Paul and Babe's tall tale nostalgia with an aged paint look.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Porter said of the renovation work as he worked on smoothing Paul's face.
The statue has been through several renovations. In 1995 Sheree Knack refurbished the statue as a 4-H project. In 1996 Paul and Babe were moved to the chamber lawn, when chamber member real estate agents donated the statue to the chamber.
In July 2002, two older teen-aged boys from the Twin Cities were posing with the 8-foot-tall concrete statue outside chamber building when they accidentally broke Paul's waving arm off. Rick Skogen and Connie Christensen volunteered countless hours to restoring the statue. They added yellow suspenders and a full beard. The pine tree was added to support Paul's new arm.
With all the work done to the original statue, recreating an exact replica of the original look won't be possible.
"So we'll do a new version of him for the next generation," Porter said.
The chamber said the community is invited to stop by at 124 N. Sixth St. in Brainerd to see the renovation in progress. An unveiling ceremony will be planned once the statue is complete.
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