POULSBO — A plain sign is all that marks the portal that is the front door to the A. Phimister Proctor Museum and curator Sandy Church likes to call it “Poulsbo’s best kept secrets.”
It is a tribute to his grandfather, Proctor, one of the most prolific American sculptors of the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s. Proctor’s monumental bronze figures can be seen from the buffalos on the Washington, D.C. Q Street Bridge, to “Bronco Buster” and the “Indian on the War Trail” in Denver, Colo. and even locally with the “Roughrider” monument to Teddy Roosevelt in Portland, Ore.
Church, the founder of Liberty Bay Auto Center, had a very strong bond with is grandfather that lead to his interest in Proctor’s art. He began preserving his grandfather’s memory just barely out of college by setting himself the goal of collecting one of every Proctor bronze.
At first, it was a personal mission to connect with his grandfather’s memory, but eventually the collection began to take on a life of its own. In the early-1990s, Church’s mother gave him 100 of his grandfather’s original plasters. Adding these to his collection of bronzes, Church decided he’d next begin the painstaking chore of restoring the plasters, some of which had been recovered from less-than-ideal storage situations in basements and barns.
Church then would bring the finished plasters to his office at Liberty Bay Auto.
“And when I got so many that they filled my office, I got a bigger office and continued to restore them and then my wife and I started kiddingly calling my office ‘The Museum,’” Church recalled. “Turns out we had one of the most extensive collections of a turn-of-the-century American sculptor. So, when we found that out we decided instead of kiddingly calling it ‘The Museum’ we’d start a non-profit and actually open a museum.”
The museum, officially established in 1997, now resides in the larger two-story “office” on the southwest corner of Liberty Bay Auto Center. It is a display of Proctor sculptures, paintings and other memorabilia.
One of his greatest finds was the original plaster cast that was used to make the monumental Roosevelt roughrider statue and that had been stored in a basement belonging to the State of North Dakota for 30 years.
The cast, he explained, gives a clear picture of the process Proctor went through to put together his bigger-than-life horsemen. Church said it was thrilling to receive the 4,400-pound plaster, which he hopes to someday piece back together. Even so, he said most people got a good laugh out of his mission to acquire it.
“My wife would say ‘What are you going to do if you get it? Where are you going to put it?’” Church remembered with a laugh.
Walking through the museum Church can see his grandfather’s handprint in every piece and knows every one of their origins and stories by heart. And when he’s not educating the world about Proctor’s work one handful of people at a time, he is stumping up support to restore his grandfather’s monumental sculptures around the country.
Recently, he helped raise $40,000 for Denver’s pieces and he’s in the process of raising awareness and $60,000 for the four Q Street buffalo.
For his work, Church and his museum have been selected by the Smithsonian Institute to host an exhibit of monumental sculptures called “Preserving Memory: America’s Monumental Legacy” from Oct. 10-Nov. 2. The show will be part of a traveling exhibit raising awareness, and hopefully money, for monumental outdoor sculptures across the nation.
For Church it’s a great honor to host the 20 monumental plasters, but he also sees it as just one more way to pay tribute to the man the world knew as an artist, but who he still refers to as grand-dad.
“I feel like we’ve reached the pinnacle of teaching folks who grand-dad was and I also feel we’ve done a good job educating the people of this area what’s in their own back yard,” he said.
Preserving Memory: America’s Monumental Legacy
7 p.m. on Oct. 10
Liberty Bay Auto
The exhibit will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, or to schedule a private group screening, call (360) 779-2574