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The Long Look watches over the valley once again from Auburn's Centennial Park

Workers including sculptor Brad Rude, left foreground, reinstall The Long Look, a bronze deer statue at Centennial Park. The Long Look has been moved to  a better location, closer to the road for better visibility.  - Courtesy photo
Workers including sculptor Brad Rude, left foreground, reinstall The Long Look, a bronze deer statue at Centennial Park. The Long Look has been moved to a better location, closer to the road for better visibility.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

In conversation about his art, Brad Rude's hands chop, compress, stretch, twist the air, as if it were a sheet of metal he could bend to his artistic will at his workshop in Walla Walla.

A small token of the energy the sculptor decants into his work.

Rude, 49, was in Auburn last week to replace one of his pieces, The Long Look, the bronze deer thieves sawed from its metal log in Centennial Park on Aug. 21, 2012, leaving behind, a la The Grinch, four bare hooves.

That theft ticked off a lot of people.

"Despicable," said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

"Whenever something of yours gets stolen, especially when you don't know who took it or where it went, it makes you angry and upset," Rude said. "A lot of people, from what I've heard, really cared about that sculpture. It grows on people and becomes part of their daily routine."

Fortunately, Rude had the rubber mold at The Foundry in Walla Walla, a huge warehouse filled with molds created by hundreds of artists through the years. Each artist has his or her section there, stacked and numbered, he said. So when any of them wants to cast another piece from a previous date, he or she need only pull the mold out, make another wax copy and get to work.

At the City's behest, that's what Rude did.

When he arrived with his deer at 12:30 for the reinstallation, cemetery employees were ready with their front-end loaders to get the piece out of the truck. From removal to the final twisting of the last bolt, the process took about an hour.

So the Long Look is back — with a couple of refinements.

The deer has been moved closer to the road from its former location.

"It's in a better location, more visible from the road," said Majia McKnight, arts coordinator for the City of Auburn. "People can see it and keep a better eye on it."

There are new security measures in place, most of them hush hush.

"Don't tell the meth heads or whoever stole it," Rude said.

Before the theft, the sculpture had survived several vandalism and theft attempts, the most recent of them in 2005. Park visitors called police on that occasion after observing that somebody had sawn through two of the legs.

The City responded by welding the legs back on and putting "extra heft" in them, McKnight said. Staff also cut back bushes that had partially blocked the park from the road.

"The art is in the public sphere, and part of the joy is that it's out there where anyone can access it. At the same time, the danger is that we can't protect it, we can't put it under lock and key. Our maintenance program checks in on them regularly to make sure everything is OK," McKnight said.

Rude got a reminder during the reinstallation of what the stolen work means to people.

As workers were unloading the deera man and a woman stopped by to see what was going on. As daily drivers on the road, they explained, they remembered the deep anger and disappointment they felt when they learned of the theft.

"If we had seen these people, we would have tackled 'em, jumped' em, beat 'em up, caught em' red handed," the couple said of the thieves.

They then described pictures they had taken of their 8-year-old daughter over the years, sitting on the deer, playing on the deer. And how she had cried, at the grotesque, brutal sight of the hooves.

But last Friday, it was all smiles.

"You have made our day. We are excited that it's back," they said.

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