Every time Ketchikan the Animal Man made an appearance on the beloved Seattle children’s program The J.P. Patches Show, he linked arms with its title character and ran in a circle. Then, with upbeat music playing, the two larger-than-life characters switched arms and ran in the opposite direction.
The greeting between Bob Newman’s animal-enthusiast role and Julius Pierpont “J.P.” Patches—the titular goofy clown character immortalized by Chris Wedes—became a hallmark of the popular show, which ran on KIRO TV from 1958 to 1981. So about a decade ago, when sculptor Kevin Pettelle set about designing a piece of art that would honor the legacy of Wedes and Newman while also showcasing the essence of one of the longest-running children’s TV shows in U.S. history, he decided to feature that familiar dance.
Installed in 2008 near the Fremont Bridge, the six-foot-tall bronze sculpture features Wedes as his iconic character and Newman, who played more than 20 characters on the show but is dressed as his primary character, Gertrude, with their arms hooked, happily pulling each other in opposite directions.
In keeping with the essence of the show, the piece of art also includes plenty of visual gags. For example, Wedes is grinning while staring at his watch, which Pettelle purposefully installed upside down. The piece is nearby another sculpture, “Waiting for the Interurban,” which features a group of people standing next to the road waiting for a bus that no longer exists. Pettelle decided to create a visual joke between the two statues by naming his piece “Late for the Interurban.”
“They’re not only late for a bus that doesn’t exist anymore, they’re running in opposite directions,” says Pettelle. “The punchline is: What happens right after that? Do they fall on their butts? Do they go in the other direction?”
He made sure not to skimp on the details. All of the buttons on J.P. Patches’ hat are a reference to characters on the show, while his lapel is dedicated to Wedes’ own life. For example, there’s an image of “Joe the Cook,” which Wedes played before becoming J.P. Patches. According to Pettelle, it was his all-time favorite role.
Wedes had spent time working in radio and TV in Minnesota before he moved his family to the Pacific Northwest and became the star of the show. By 1960, Newman joined the program, and the pair improvised the unscripted episodes together. At times, the show saw over 100,000 viewers in a single day.
Although The J.P. Patches Show ended in 1981, Wedes and Newman continued to perform together for public and private events, further solidifying themselves as local celebrities in and around Seattle. Such well-known Seattle residents as Bill Gates, former governors Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire, and former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels were all fans of the show, the Seattle PI notes in Wedes’s obituary.
The Seattle City Council dubbed November 5, 2007, J.P. Patches Day. But in an effort to truly honor the show and the impact the pair of actors had had on hundreds of thousands of children, members of the community wanted to install a statue. Fans of the show, along with local companies, and community leaders raised more than the $160,000 for the project.
Pettelle, a huge fan of the show himself, was commissioned to create the piece of work. He drew sketches, created a maquette (a three-dimensional rendering of his design made out of clay), and then built a half-size version of the sculpture before completing the final piece of art. The whole process took about a year.
The statue was unveiled in the summer of 2008 in front of a crowd of at least 1,500 people. The installation even features hooks on J.P. Patches’ jacket so visitors can hang buttons on it, and includes a ICU2TV set—a prop used on the program to make it seem like the characters were watching you back—that doubles as a collection bank for Children’s Hospital.
In 2013, the year after Wedes’s death, part of a street in Fremont was named “J.P. Patches Place.”
Pettelle, like so many others who grew up when the show was on the air, says he used to watch it all the time as a child. When he got the commission to create this statue, he says he considered it a project of a lifetime.
“It was literally like me having John Lennon come into my studio and sculpting him,” says Pettelle. “It was that much of an honor.”