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Freshly bronzed 'Dude' finally returns to Vancouver's Dude Chilling Park

After two years away, the legendary figure has returned to his rightful place in a central Vancouver park, but he’s changed.

The legendary figure has returned to his rightful place in a central Vancouver park, but he’s changed

Now cast in bronze, The Dude has returned to Dude Chilling Park, stronger and heavier. (Michael Dennis)

A legendary figure has returned to his rightful place in a central Vancouver park, but he's changed: he's tougher than he once was, definitely slicker, and he's put on a whole lot of weight.

Created by sculptor Michael Dennis, the sculpture affectionately referred to by locals as The Dude is finally back in place following a two-year absence.

His original name was Reclining Figure, but the sculpture became known as The Dude in 2014 after artist Viktor Briestensky installed an official-looking sign that renamed the spot Dude Chilling Park. (The park's official name is Guelph Park.)

The Vancouver Park Board removed the sign, but after a public outcry ensued, and a local resident gathered hundreds of names on a petition, the city put it back in place. When the sign was later stolen, the Park Board replaced it with an official one. 

 

The sign generated generated a huge amount of buzz, including a mention from late night host Jimmy Kimmel who commented that "Between Dude Chilling Park and Mayor Ford, I might have to move to Canada."

A local brewery even created a Dude Chilling Pale Ale, and when the sign was stolen and replaced, actor Seth Rogen retweeted the Park Board announcement.

 

But while the Dude Chilling sign was garnering international attention, the sculpture that inspired the name was not. Made of cedar and officially installed in 1992, The Dude was succumbing to the elements, and because he wasn't being properly maintained, he was falling apart.

"It was straight on the wet ground and started rotting from underneath. Cedar will last if it's not standing in water," he says. "But it was in bad shape."

The Dude after he'd fallen on hard times. Shortly after this photo was taken, Michael Dennis' sculpture was removed because it was rotting and no longer safe. (Michael Dennis)

That's when Dennis stepped in and contacted City Hall, the Park Board and the local business association, expressing concern about the condition of the work, saying it was no longer safe.

Rather than retiring The Dude, Dennis convinced officials to raise the funds needed to cast the figure in bronze, giving him a more solid future.

"I brought it back to my studio, and cut away all the wood that was not good and replaced it," says Dennis, who says it took weeks to get The Dude to the point where he would be fit for casting. "When you're casting into bronze, they make a mold from the original, so it had to be in good shape."

Dennis says when he initially created the sculpture, he used a burning technique that accentuated the grain of the wood, and that texture really comes through in the bronzing.

Sculptor Michael Dennis at the unveiling of the bronze version of Reclining Figure — better known as The Dude. (Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association)

"Now you can see all of that wood grain," says Dennis. "In fact, when I was driving it over on the back of my truck, a woman in the ferry terminal said, 'That's a really cool piece of wood you got there.' So she read it as wood." 

Bronzing is not cheap, either — roughly $40,000 just to bronze The Dude, and another $20,000 in related costs — but a local foundation agreed to pay half, provided the other half could be raised by community organizations and individual donors.

The Rio Theatre even stepped up and screened the legendary Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski — Jeff Bridges famously plays a character nicknamed "The Dude" — and donated partial proceeds to the Dude Chilling cause.

"Everybody helped fundraise. There have been some big donors and little donors, and people buying t-shirts, so it all adds up," says Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association board chair Anita Romaniuk, who says the Big Lebowski screening was especially memorable. "It was really fun. People actually came dressed up in housecoats."

“People are so glad to see it back, and since they unveiled it Saturday, people have been sitting right around it,” says Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association board chair Anita Romaniuk. “In fact I was on once side of it, and I couldn’t even see the sculpture from where I was sitting because there were so many people packed around it, keeping him company.” (Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association)

The fundraising is ongoing, but finally this week, after two years of bureaucratic headaches and logistical roadblocks, The Dude is back in place, drawing droves of visitors looking to check out his sleek new bronzed form, both at an official ceremony and in the days that followed.

The Vancouver mayor's office has also officially declared August 17 Dude Chilling Day.

"People are so glad to see it back, and since they unveiled it Saturday, people have been sitting right around it," says Romaniuk. "In fact I was on one side of it, and I couldn't even see the sculpture from where I was sitting because there were so many people packed around it, keeping him company."

Dennis is still hopeful he will raise enough money to cover the cost of the bronzing, but for now he's just happy to see The Dude back in the Dude Chilling Park.

"I can't think of a of a better place for my work, where it's just regular people, many of whom don't have any pretensions about art, or is it good art, or is it bad art. You know the kids go out there, and they know what to do with it," says Dennis with a laugh.

Vancouver Echo photo of sculptor Michael Dennis with his work Reclining Figure when it was first installed in 1992. Twenty-two years later, the figure would become internationally known as "The Dude." (Michael Dennis)

"That's great, as opposed to being in the yard of some collector that has a lot of money and a few friends and that's who sees it. So I love that it is where it is."

Dennis also shares a little Dude-related trivia, saying the original figure he installed in the park during a 1991 art festival was a female figure with very subtle cleavage that intimated breasts, but someone from the adjacent school complained that it was inappropriate. So when he installed the permanent sculpture, he used a male version of the figure he had carved instead, and that figure became The Dude.

"That was just 20 or 25 years ago," he notes. "It's a reflection on how great the change has been in social imagery, that somebody would have worried about suggesting breasts, so it shouldn't be on view."

So what's next for Dennis, now that the five-year-long project is off his shoulders and The Dude is safe and sound? He's working on more sculptures, and finally able to do a little chilling too.

"I get to chill my head," he says with a laugh. "It's just a relief that I don't have to worry about this anymore.

"But it looks really good. It's ideal," says Dennis, who loves that the park attracts parents with kids, dog walkers, yoga practitioners, and any number of people looking for a serene respite from the urban din. "So I'm pleased all around."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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