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Blue River's Resilience And Rebirth Captured In Phoenix Sculpture

Brian Bull

A monument to resiliency and rebirth now stands in the McKenzie River Corridor town of Blue River, which was ravaged by last year’s Holiday Farm Fire.  The metal phoenix sculpture – called “Viribus” was installed Thursday morning and will watch over Blue River as it rebuilds.

Sculptor Jud Turner and relatives unloaded the immense pieces off his truck, and onto a recently-poured concrete pad.  Turner then welded the roughly 12-13' tall sculpture together.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Unloading and assembly begins, with Jud Turner and relatives helping.

“Viribus is meant to be a symbol of resilience and beauty and strength, that can emerge when people come together to rebuild, or to build something new,” explained Turner.

Since January, Turner has worked on the $12,000 project in his Eugene studio.  Most of the metal used was donated from Blue River residents, from homes and businesses leveled by the massive wildfire that consumed 173,000 acres last September.

Another special feature is in the phoenix’s “heart” which contains some water taken from the nearby McKenzie River.

Among the project partners are Love for Lane County, and the McKenzie Community Development Corporation.  The idea behind the sculpture was to give townspeople a monument to their endurance and ability to rise from the ashes, as symbolized by the mythical Phoenix.

Viribus – Latin for “strength” – now stands across from where Melanie Stanley’s general store once stood, and will soon stand again.  She calls the sculpture project a labor of love.

“Everything from picking the spot to watching it be built, and knowing how much time and effort that Jud has been putting into this, has been amazing,” she told KLCC. 

Stanley herself aims to have her store rebuilt and back open for business in the spring of 2022.  She expects both the sculpture and her store to be a primary gathering spot for Blue River locals.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Eugene sculptor Jud Turner with Viribus, which utilized donated scrap metal from Blue River homes and businesses razed by the Holiday Farm Fire.

Stanley says her other hope is that Blue River sees its residents return, despite the hardship of the past year.  While some families have come back – some now living at a special temporary housing site at the U.S. Basketball Camp down Highway 126 – others are deliberating, as they weigh the rewards and risks of living in a rural, forested area.

A ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the Holiday Farm Fire was planned for Sept. 7 for Blue River residents, but has since been postponed in light of COVID-19. Organizers have not announced a new date. Once a date is set they ask that media and non-residents respect their privacy by letting them reflect on the past year amongst themselves.

This story has been updated with information about the postponement of the ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the Holiday Farm Fire.

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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