Local sculptor creates memorial in Ruston

Colleen Slater Key Peninsula resident Paul Michaels poses next to a sculpture he made of William Rust, a longtime philanthropist and promoter of Tacoma and Pierce County. Courtesy photo

Paul Michaels began his professional art career as a woodcarver. He first specialized in custom carousel horses, creating about a dozen, most of them displayed in clients homes.

“The idea of the permanence of bronze sculpture appealed to me and in 1995, I went off in that direction,” he said.

His first public bronze monument was a statue of Ben Cheney sitting in the stands watching the game at Cheney Stadium.  

Since then he has created others commemorating historic figures in the local area, including Puyallup berry farmer Ted Picha, Allen C. Mason and a monument on the site of the top of the Ocean Restaurant in old Tacoma.

Michaels’ bronze plaques are in sidewalks in the Proctor district and along Ruston Way, marking sites of historic sawmills.

The Tacoma Historical Society acted as fiscal sponsor for some of his projects, which allowed contributors to deduct donations.

“In 1999 Elise and I built a house on the Key Peninsula and moved our family here from Tacoma,” Michaels said.

He now works on his sculpture projects at a studio there.

“I have enjoyed researching historical figures and using the facts I find when portraying them in Bronze,” he said.

He checks clothing, personal items and tries to portray their personality in the facial expression.

“I kind of like researching Tacoma history and wondered who Ruston was named for,” he said.

He discovered Ruston was named after William Rust, but didnt know much about him.

“The more I learned about him the more I thought he deserved a statue. Many people in Ruston can now find a bit of their towns history when they discover this monument,” he said.

It turned out, Michaels said, that Rust not only built the Tacoma Smelter, which for a time was the largest employer in Pierce County, but was a philanthropist and promoter of Tacoma and Pierce County.

Rust sold the smelter in 1905 for a tremendous profit, invested in mining interests in Alaska and sat on the boards of many local companies. He was instrumental in getting the Stadium Bowl built and influencing the Army to build Camp (Fort) Lewis in Pierce County, he said.

According to Michaels, Rust built a large business building in downtown Tacoma, was chairman of the board of Tacoma General Hospital and created the Rust Trust for the care of children at the facility.Money from the trust paid for half of the original Mary Bridge Hospital building and continues to generate support for the hospital, millions of dollars to date.

Michaels worked about two years on this project.Research took a while and finding enough photos of Mr. Rust to be confident the statue resembled him was a challenge.

“It turns out there was an oil portrait of him hidden away at Mary Bridge Hospital,” he said. “I sculpted the image in clay in my studio and the sculpture was cast in bronze at Two Ravens Foundry in Tacoma.”

Babe Lehrer, well known Tacoma community activist agreed to act as fundraiser for the project and the Tacoma Historical Society handled the money.

Contributors included MultiCare, the Point Ruston developers, Rust family descendants, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and the Ruston/Point Defiance Business District Association.

Wren & Willow, general contractors, made and donated the concrete pedestal.The City of Ruston now owns the monument that was installed in Juneat the corner of North 51st and Winifred Street.