CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. (KOIN) — A massive bald eagle has been growing in the Columbia River Gorge for the past three years. It’s almost done, but the road has been long and full of close calls. Two years ago, as the Eagle Creek fire closed in, Heather Söderberg-Greene and her husband waited in her Cascade Locks studio, armed with hoses to cool the sculpture if they lost power.
“It was just terrifying … we could feel the heat and if we had lost power it would have melted. And it wasn’t done yet,” Söderberg-Greene said.
They were supposed to evacuate, but she said the fire department allowed them to stay in the studio which is, fittingly, a former fire station.
“I was definitely going to try to fight for it,” she said.
Luckily, it didn’t come to that. Now, the sculpting is done, down to each painstakingly-crafted feather of the eagle’s astonishing 55 foot wingspan (that’s wider than a standard basketball court). And in a few short months, it should be ready to take flight, metaphorically speaking.
Söderberg-Greene started her art career with a bang and national news coverage. Her father worked at a bronze foundry in Arizona and had given his 1-year-old daughter some wax to play with. The result was what appeared to be five versions of the female form. Within a year, he was casting her sculptures in bronze. At age 3, Söderberg-Greene was selling sculptures and soon began showing her work in galleries. The sculpting prodigy was even featured in People Magazine and the 1980s reality show “That’s Incredible!”
After all that early fame, though, Söderberg-Greene “rebelled” by pursuing a career in law enforcement. But that all changed after a close call shortly after she graduated college. Söderberg-Greene said she ran out of oxygen while diving in Hawaii, prompting her to take a hard look at her future and be more “realistic.”
“I’m so so sensitive and what experience I did have with law enforcement … I just knew I didn’t have the personality for that at all,” she said.
So she packed up her bags and moved to Oregon to work at a foundry in Troutdale. A few years later, she struck out on her own, opening a small foundry with her brother-in-law.
She does commissions for people all over the world, but you’re also likely to run into her work around the Portland metro area. In fact, she created the sculpture of Gresham’s “kindest resident,” Todd Kirnan. It was unveiled in 2018 during a community celebration that was featured in CBS National Morning News’ Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” series.
But the eagle is a whole new challenge.
“It is massive”
Her website declares it the “world’s largest bald eagle bronze statue.” Currently, Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville claims to hold that title, with its 33-foot high, 10,000+ pound statue. However, once Söderberg-Greene’s eagle is done, it will likely weigh twice that.
“It is massive,” Söderberg-Greene said. “I definitely do a wide variety of sizes … (but) this eagle has been, by far, the largest I’ve ever sculpted.”
The eagle is a commission, but she won’t say who ordered it, only that they are philanthropists who own numerous businesses and “wanted to help an artist.”
Söderberg-Greene didn’t let the scale scare her. At least, not in the beginning.
“I completely jumped headfirst,” she said. But she soon realized just how big 55 feet really was. “It got a little intimidating and the clients wanted it to be all by hand, so no technology … So I had a few meltdowns,” she added, laughing.
About 400 separate pieces have been cast, a multi-step process that starts with a giant clay eagle and ends with molten bronze being poured into a shell. Next, those pieces have to be welded back together into three larger pieces; the full body and each wing separate. A semi trailer will deliver it to its final destination, and final assembly will be done on site.
If you’re wondering what a bronze eagle of that size costs, think millions. Söderberg-Greene said most of the money from the first sculpture will go into production costs. However, the mystery clients are letting her make a limited set of replicas which could fetch a pretty penny from anyone looking to own a bald eagle worthy of Mount Rushmore.
Söderberg-Greene expects the eagle to be completely finished sometime in the spring. She said it will go on display first in Cascade Locks, then the buyers want to take it on a tour around the country, spreading the word about her work.
“That’s been a total miracle,” she said. “It’s amazing.”