Originally published June 2006
Every summer around the late Jerry Garcia’s birthday, McMenamins celebrates his legacy by throwing a free-wheeling party. It’s a wonderful day in tribute to a man who inspired legions of fans with his music. And at Edgefield, we honor Jerry year-round with a 7-foot-tall bronze sculpture in his likeness, a piece that draws his longtime admirers, curious hotel guests and others into its quiet, tree-lined grove just off the Pub Course.
In the fall of 1998, while working on murals at Edgefield, artist Joe Cotter was asked to create “an organic Jerry Garcia” sculpture, something that would blend with Edgefield’s grounds. Cotter, who is admittedly “not good on deadlines,” let the request languish and nearly lost the assignment. That was enough to light a fire – Cotter, a former Dead follower, knew he could not let this opportunity pass.
When he finally created a concept for the piece, it was summarily approved. The next five months were devoted to crafting the installation, a work that holds much nostalgia for those familiar with the Grateful Dead – terrapins, skulls, alligators, roses, moon craters, the bearded visage of Jerry himself blend with the deadened tree-limb architecture. “You can see that he is picking the brain of the skull that forms the body of his guitar,” explains Cotter. “And his right arm and fingers of his left hand are missing, gone – dead, not coming back.” The sculpture was a true labor of love – Joe’s partner Kolieha Bush (also a McMenamins artist and sculptor), contributed a lovely set of hands, and Joe’s young sons Leon and Noah added a snake and a sea turtle.
The sculpture was originally intended to house a rose bush that would weave in and out of its limbs; however, nature prevailed when the plant did not flourish. Instead, visitors themselves imbue the piece with life, leaving bouquets of flowers, lit candles, old ticket stubs and the occasional illicit offering smoldering in one of Jerry’s many nooks and crannies.
Pay homage at Joe Cotter’s “Garcia Bronze” at Edgefield, and mark your calendars for the annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash in July. See further examples of Cotter’s work adorning pub and hotel walls across the Kingdom and in public murals throughout the Portland community.
Ed. note: Joe Cotter passed away in Spring 2012. His artwork lives on in blazing color and detail.