Grandfather's bronzes grace Northwest

Seeing how the spirit of Lori Smiley’s grandfather fills her house, it’s apt that some people think angels are on her side as she explores his life and art.

I say grit deserves at least equal credit.

Knute Evertz was a Bellingham metalworker whose ornate bronze creations adorn major office buildings throughout the Northwest. He was an artist but not much of a record keeper, so Smiley has spent a decade tracking down details of his life and sleuthing foundries, buildings, antique shops and e Bay for tangible pieces of his craftsmanship.

She plans to put together a book on her grandfather for friends and family. Asked when she started the project, she replies, “Too late.”

“If you could go back in time and spend a day with someone in the past, I’d spend it with my grandfather,” she says. “I really wish I could ask him things, and I can’t.”

Some of Evertz’s bronze pieces are gone — melted or destroyed when buildings were demolished. Another piece of his legacy fell to the wreckers recently when Bellingham Food Bank knocked down its building at 1824 Ellis St. to make way for a new building.

The building used to house Schilling-Evertz Co., a foundry run by Evertz and Frederick Schilling. The food bank might install a piece of Evertz’s bronze work inside the new building to commemorate his ties to the site.

Born in 1882, Evertz studied art and metalworking in his native Sweden before moving to the United States. He and his wife, Signe Asplund, lived in the Midwest until 1905, then moved to Bellingham because she had relatives here.

Evertz worked at several local foundries, opened his own business in 1922, then became partners three years later with Schilling. They split after five years and Evertz opened his own bronze works at Ellis and Ohio streets. He retired in 1959 and died a year later.

Through the years, the short, wiry man could be pinpointed by the cigar in his mouth and by his natty business clothes, which he protected with coveralls once at work.

At her Bellingham home, Smiley, who is a special-education teacher, proudly shows visitors a cabinet full of small metal items made by Evertz — a palm-size sculpture of his son Eddie, family portraits, humorous plaques — fun and handy objects he crafted in his spare time at his breakfast nook.

Smiley has several miniature models of the Peace Arch because Evertz made 150 of them for a luncheon held to honor the arch. She has an Art Deco ashtray he made that shows a woman in a dress; turn the ashtray over and you see the woman’s bare behind.

Such objects hint at Evertz’s creative and playful sides, but he’s best known for his beautiful bronze pieces for customers. Local examples include the trim on the outdoor ticket booth at Mount Baker Theatre, commemorative plaques in parks and buildings, and the tulip fountain near the Dirty Dan Harris sculpture at Fairhaven Village Green.

Elsewhere, his 375-pound bronze eagle perches high on a stone monument at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Everett, while his detailed bronze gates, teller cages, front doors, trim, elevator doors and light fixtures still embellish classic office buildings in the region.

Armed with a camera and with drawings and photographs of her grandfather’s creations, Smiley has documented his work in such places as the Spokesman-Review building in Spokane and Seattle’s Northern Life Tower, Exchange Building and 1411 Building, three downtown art deco landmarks.

At one bank, Smiley nearly was detained for trying to take pictures of some bronze trim inside. Bank officials finally let her snap photos of a piece outside, keeping close watch all the while.

Smiley talks to demolition companies to see if her grandfather’s fixtures survived the wrecking ball, and scopes out buildings designed by architects known to have worked with her grandfather. Sometimes, she just prowls the streets of Seattle in search of images or lettering she can trace to him.

One day, she and a friend were driving to Seattle to visit antique shops. When they learned about an accident ahead, they detoured into Everett and stopped at a store with second-hand construction materials because her friend wanted some wood trim. They went inside and saw a length of Evertz’s bronze window trim from the Northern Life Tower.

“It was meant to be,” says Smiley.