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Local artist recreates landmark
John Bitney is always tinkering, building and creating. Now, the recently-retired dairy farmer is forging a future in the arts.
In August, the Enumclaw resident put the finishing touches on a restoration project at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. He was brought in to create a landmark – to build a replica of the historic light fixture first installed above the site’s public restrooms in 1908.
The lamp was hidden behind the famous neon Public Market Center sign and clock and still sits in that location, but the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority is in the first phase of a renovation project and the lamp is a centerpiece for a new terrace and outside stairway.
To call the lamp a restoration project is modest. Bitney started with the structure’s more than 100-year-old, 15-foot tall, 6,000-pound base. He found a couple of photographs from 1916 and 1920 which featured the lamp from a distance. And, through some good detective work, he got his hands on the original ink-on-linen drawings of the piece from the early 1900s.
“It is an interesting piece with an interesting history,” Bitney said.
It also posed some interesting design dilemmas, which for a problem-solver like Bitney, proved a good match for his keen intellect and creative juices.
“It was quite a feat for a little one-man shop like mine,” Bitney said.
Bitney finished his design work in December and then went through six months of pressure-cooker patterning and casting to make the deadline. The pattern construction alone took two months.
“Ninety percent of it was done in the wood shop,” he said. “You can’t make an iron part without a pattern.”
The 1,000-pound, cast iron, fixture has eight arms, each with a 16-inch glass globe. The A 20-inch globe, which because of its size had to be handblown, rests on the top.
The piece was dedicated Aug. 17.
Creating the piece was the work Bitney’s been craving.
Raised on the Enumclaw farm, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and another in animal science. After graduation, he worked as an engineer briefly before returning to the dairy business. He retired his herd about a year ago.
“All the while I was fabricating and casting metal as a hobby,” he said.
With the milking done, he had more time for that hobby.
“I’ve always done metal work,” he said. “Now I’m trying to ramp it up.”
He did some cast-iron castings for the Pioneer Square pergola after its collapse. He created newel posts for the stairways for Seattle’s Lincoln High School remodel. Most of his jobs have been creating iron and hardware for high-end handrails and boats and doing one-of-a-kind custom work.
“It was always sporadic. Industrial art is the sort of thing I’d like to do more of,” he said.
Slowly and surely, he’s getting the opportunity. He’s currently working on light fixtures for the University of Washington hospital. He’s hoping the Pike Place Market place will open new doors.
“I’m hoping for some spin-off projects,” he said.