Renton is now host to a dragon. A 25-foot long, over 750-pound dragon.
To get creative with a crack in the roof of a downtown building, which was repaired after seismic activity, the Renton Municipal Arts Commission worked with Western Neon to create an aluminum dragon with LED-light eyes and a mouth that peers over the roof and onto Wells Avenue South, at 826 South Third St.
Marsha Rollinger of the arts commission and Dylan Neuwirth, creative director at Western Neon, climbed the ladder on the side of the building and lit the dragons eyes and mouth on Saturday, April 13, as a crowd of people filling Wells Avenue South cheered below and took photos.
The lights will now stay on year-round, with customizable colors for the eyes and mouth.
In 2016 the arts commission presented projects they’ve worked on and advocated for more funding. They presented the rooftop dragon as a way they could take existing places and make them fun. City council took to the example and wanted to see it made into a reality.
Marsha Rollinger, who created the dragon idea and saw it through, was inspired by fantasy and mythology.
The lighting of the dragon on April 13 included several events throughout the city, like a scavenger hunt for dragon eggs that took folks to several participating shops around the dragon.
Wizards of the Coast, headquartered in Renton and home of the games Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, supported the event. The first 50 folks to complete the scavenger hunt received a Dungeons and Dragons starter kit.
The event also included free Dungeons and Dragons play, a reading of fantasy novel “He Walks in Dreams” and music performances from The Kennydales and Chrome Molly.
Holly at Antiques 4U, the first stop in the scavenger hunt, was hurrying to assist customers the evening of the rooftop event.
The shop had a wheel folks could spin to receive coupons, and she was at the counter trying to exchange all of them. She said the dragon was an awesome attraction for the area.
“It’s gonna make a big difference to have something like that in our downtown,” she said.
Guests at the event also said the dragon will be a great way to bring people in.
Colin Downey was attending the event with three others. When the dragon lit up, the group was about halfway through the scavenger hunt.
Downey said as someone who comes downtown frequently, it was nice to see another draw for the area. Kharli Rose agreed, and said this was great for arts and the city of Renton, especially unveiling it with an interactive event.
Rose also said it was great so many people turned out, and that pointed to how interesting this project is.
“People will come out in the cold and rain for a dragon,” Rose said.
The dragon was a long time coming. It took Neuwirth almost nine months to complete the head of the dragon due to several other projects. The head was also important to establishing how the rest of the sculpture would look, he said.
Rollinger was heavily involved the whole time. She spent a lot of time with them, bringing scales to arts commission meetings. She was there throughout the concept design and the actual creation in the workshop, Neuwirth said.
At the opening they presented models of the dragon, from 3D-printed models to how the scales would go together.
Several attendees came out in “Game of Thrones” cosplay, including Ash Bates. Bates is a cosplay artist who dressed as Brienne of Tarth.
Bates used to live in downtown Renton, and drove back just for the event. Bates said it was great to see the dragon, participate in the scavenger hunt and watch the Dungeons and Dragons games happening downtown.
On Wells Avenue, the company Bloqs hosted hourly dungeons and dragons games. One of the hosts was former Renton Municipal Arts Commission youth member and Rencon volunteer Samantha Goetz-Granquist.
Goetz-Granquist said the people who played that day ranged from families who’ve never played to seasoned role players.
For the event, Goetz-Granquist created a world with a fantasy version of the city of Renton. The players meet at the Five Colonels Bar, in a quiet valley known for its mountain ranges. The players had pre-made characters that ranged from dwarfs to elves. The game ended with a visit from the dragon who thanked them for adventuring and then flew away.
As a former youth commissioner, Goetz-Granquist remembers when the dragon was proposed and has been thrilled with it since. She is happy the city funded and supported the project after the hard work Marsha Rollinger put into it.
The city recently amended the budget to reflect the $52,679 in costs of the dragon arts project this year.
“Public art is always successful when there’s a team involved and everyone works together to get to something that tells the story of a community,” Neuwirth said.
This was Western Neon’s first project that focused more on the sculpture and public art aspect than the lighting. Previous works by the company include the neon “R” at the Rainier headquarters along Interstate-5 and the ceiling of the Nike store in downtown Seattle.
Neuwirth said he was approached about the dragon almost two years ago. He’s been an artist for over 20 years, and traveled all over the world working with the Chihuly Studio. He said that gave him experience in making a sculpture of this scale, pun intended.
Speaking of scales, each individual one was hand lasered or routed through Western Neon. There’s a variety of sizes and a lot of fine textures and each one is unique. Neuwirth hammered many of them himself. One was on display at the unveiling event.
He said it’s awesome the sculpture is quirky, but also quickly becoming iconic as people drive past in downtown.
One of the challenges for the sculpture was trying to make a universal dragon that didn’t too closely replicate one from movies or TV.
“It needed to look like an actual dragon … whatever that means,” Neuwirth said.
The sculpture is made of carbon-free aluminum to avoid rust. He said with weathering the dragon will get even more character.
Installing the dragon was another monster to conquer. They transported parts of the dragon from SoDo where the warehouse is, to downtown Renton.
He said it was definitely the first time they’ve put a dragon on top of a building.
The eyes are 3D-printed material, back-lit by LEDs, and the lights in the eyes and the mouth can be colored separately, which can be changed to recognize holidays, or Renton’s blue and gold city colors.
The eye color is controlled by a remote, but there are talks of making the lights controllable from a smart phone for passersby.
Neuwirth said it’s been great to see the city invest in its future and the arts commission be able to have the confidence to make public art a success.
More information can be found at rentondowntown.com/dragon.